December 18, 2017
Readers can expect a new Zora Neale Hurston book in 2018
by Ryan Harrington
It hasn’t even started yet, but 2018 is already shaping up into a great year for lost books from literary titans. Last week we learned that James Baldwin’s Little Man, Little Man—his only children’s book, first published to relatively minimal acclaim in the seventies—would be resurfacing to much fanfare next year.
Now it seems that HarperCollins will join the action by launching a never-before-published book by Zora Neale Hurston. Like the re-discovered Baldwin, Hurston’s posthumous forthcomer shows the author flexing a different muscle than we’re used to seeing. In this case, it’s because the book, Barracoon, is a non-fiction work of anthropology, rather than a novel.
As Daniel Johnson writes for the Black Youth Project:
Barracoon tells the story of the last known person to survive the transatlantic slave trade, a man named Cudjo Lewis. Many know that Hurston was an acclaimed fiction writer, but here it is her work as an anthropologist that shines. Hurston was able to sit down in the Black community of Plateau, Alabama, which was founded by Cudjo Lewis and other ex-slaves from the ship that brought them to America, and talk with the then 95-year-old Lewis about his life in 1931.
The book’s name comes from the type of ship on which Lewis was held and brought to America. In Barracoon, Hurston captures, largely in Lewis’s own words, the horrors of his passage to America, the brutality of his time as an enslaved person in America, and the story of his life after the Civil War.
HarperCollins is calling it “a major literary event,” and, of course, it can’t be anything short of a major contribution to the story of American slavery, from the perspective that matters most. Or, as the publisher’s marketing copy puts 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.”
Ryan Harrington is a senior editor at Melville House.