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Cover image for Barracoon
Zora Neale Hurston
Social Science
African American Interest
A major literary event: a never-before-published work from the author of the American classic Their Eyes Were Watching God that brilliantly illuminates the horror...
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A major literary event: a never-before-published work from the author of the American classic Their Eyes Were Watching God that brilliantly illuminates the horror and injustices of slavery as it tells the true story of one of the last known survivors of the Atlantic slave trade--abducted from Africa on the last "Black Cargo" ship to arrive in the United States.

In 1927, Zora Neale Hurston went to Plateau, Alabama, just outside Mobile, to interview eighty-six-year-old Cudjo Lewis. Of the millions of men, women, and children transported from Africa to America as slaves, Cudjo was then the only person alive to tell the story of this integral part of the nation's history. Hurston was there to record Cudjo's firsthand account of the raid that led to his capture and bondage fifty years after the Atlantic slave trade was outlawed in the United States.

In 1931, Hurston returned to Plateau, the African-centric community three miles from Mobile founded by Cudjo and other former slaves from his ship. Spending more than three months there, she talked in depth with Cudjo about the details of his life. During those weeks, the young writer and the elderly formerly enslaved man ate peaches and watermelon that grew in the backyard and talked about Cudjo's past--memories from his childhood in Africa, the horrors of being captured and held in a barracoon for selection by American slavers, the harrowing experience of the Middle Passage packed with more than 100 other souls aboard the Clotilda, and the years he spent in slavery until the end of the Civil War.

Based on those interviews, featuring Cudjo's unique vernacular, and written from Hurston's perspective with the compassion and singular style that have made her one of the preeminent American authors of the twentieth-century, Barracoon brilliantly illuminates the tragedy of slavery and of one life forever defined by it. Offering insight into the pernicious legacy that continues to haunt us all, black and white, this poignant and powerful work is an invaluable contribution to our shared history and culture.

Author Notes

Zora Neale Hurston was born in 1901 in Eatonville, Fla. She left home at the age of 17, finished high school in Baltimore, and went on to study at Howard University, Barnard College, and Columbia University before becoming one of the most prolific writers in the Harlem Renaissance.

Her works included novels, essays, plays, and studies in folklore and anthropology. Her most productive years were the 1930s and early 1940s. It was during those years that she wrote her autobiography Dust Tracks on a Road, worked with the Federal Writers Project in Florida, received a Guggenheim fellowship, and wrote four novels. She is most remembered for her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, published in 1937. In 2018, her previously unpublished work, Barracoon: The Story of the Last Black Cargo, was published.

She died penniless and in obscurity in 1960 and was buried in an unmarked grave. In 1973, her grave was rediscovered and marked and her novels and autobiography have since been reprinted.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Library Journal Review

Novelist Zora Neale Hurston drafted Barracoon in 1931, but the work has never been published until now. At once a work of anthropology, folklore, and reminiscence, the book relates the interviews Hurston conducted in 1927 with Cudjo Lewis (1840-1935), the last known survivor of the Atlantic slave trade. Much of Lewis's retelling focuses on growing up in a Yoruba village in West Africa, his capture by slavers and transport on the Middle -Passage in 1860, and life after emancipation in helping to build Africatown, a refuge former slaves established near Mobile, AL. Lewis describes his brutal enslavement and the racism that followed his emancipation. Hurston demonstrates interest, even shock, at what Lewis chooses to tell her. This is a rare account of the full experience of enslavement from capture to "freedom," and a revealing look at Hurston's maturing as a folklorist sensitive to dialect and interviewees' authority over their own stories. This first edition of Barracoon gains from author Deborah Plant's introduction, which places Hurston's work in historical and literary context and addresses her folkloristic approach to frame Lewis's interviews. VERDICT A brief book that tells a significant story; for fans of Hurston and African American and world history. [See Prepub Alert, 11/12/17.]-Randall M. Miller, St. Joseph's Univ., Philadelphia © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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