“Concerning the Dead” — Zora Neale Hurston

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“Concerning the Dead”

by

Zora Neale Hurston

from Mules and Men


There are many superstitions concerning the dead.

All over the South and in the Bahamas the spirits of the dead have great power which is used chiefly to harm. it Will be noted how frequently graveyard dust is required in the practice of hoodoo, goofer dust as it is often called.

It is to be noted that in nearly all of the killing ceremonies the cemetery is used.

The Ewe-speaking peoples of the west coast of Africa all make offerings of food and drink ?particularly libations of palm wine and banana beer upon the graves of the ancestor. It is to be noted in America that the spirit is always given a pint of good whiskey. He is frequently also paid for his labor in cash.

It is well known that church members are buried with their feet to the east so that they will arise on that last day facing the rising sun. Sinners are buried facing the opposite direction. The theory is that sunlight will do them harm rather than good, as they will no doubt wish to hide their faces from an angry God.

Ghosts cannot cross water?so that if a hoodoo doctor wishes to sic a dead spirit upon a man who lives across water, he must first hold the mirror ceremony to fetch the victim from across the water.

People who die from the sick bed may walk any night, but

Friday night is the night of the people who died in the dark who were executed. These people have never been in the light.

They died with the black cap over the face. Thus, they are blind. On Friday nights they visit the folks who died from sick beds and they lead the blind ones wherever they wish to visit.

Ghosts feel hot and smell faintish. According to testimony all except those who died in the dark may visit their former homes every night at twelve o’clock. But they must be back in the cemetery at two o’clock sharp or they will be shut out by the watchman and must wander about for the rest of the night. That is why the living are frightened by seeing ghosts at times. Some spirit has lingered too long with the living person it still loves and has been shut out from home.

Pop Drummond of Fernandina, Fla., says they are not asleep at all. They “Sings and has church and has a happy time, but some are spiteful and show themselves to scare folks.” Their voices are high and thin. Some ghosts grow very fat if they get plenty to eat. They are very fond of honey. Some who have been to the holy place wear seven?starred crowns and arc very “suscautious” and sensible.

Dirt from sinners’ graves is supposed to be very powerful, but some hoodoo doctors will use only that from the graves of infants. They say that the sinner’s grave is powerful to kill, but his spirit is likely to get unruly and kill others for the pleasure of killing. It is too dangerous to commission.

The spirit newly released from the body is likely to be destructive. This is why a cloth is thrown over the face of a clock in the death chamber and the looking glass is covered over. The clock will never run again, nor will the mirror ever cast any more reflections if they are not covered so that the spirit cannot see them.

When it rains at a funeral it is said that God wishes to wash their tracks off the face of the earth, they were so displeasing to him.

If a murder victim is buried in a sitting position, the murderer will be speedily brought to justice. The victim sitting before the throne is able to demand that justice be done. If he is lying prone he cannot do this.

A fresh egg in the hand of a murder victim will prevent the murderer’s going far from the scene. The egg represents life, and so the dead victim is holding the life of the murderer in his hand.

Sometimes the dead are offended by acts of the living and slap the face of the living. When this happens, the head is slapped one?sided and the victim can never straighten his neck. Speak gently to ghosts, and do not abuse the children of the dead.

It is not good to answer the first time that your name is called. It may be a spirit and if you answer it, you will die shortly. They never call more than once at a time, so by waiting you will miss probable death.

Three Books

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Complete Tales & Poems by Edgar Allan Poe. Fat trade paperback by Vintage; most recent date indicates 1975 but that can’t be right. No designer credited.

You know Poe.

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Tell My Horse by Zora Neale Hurston. 1983 trade paperback edition from Turtle Island. Neither designer nor photographer are credited.

A wonderful and weird trip to Jamaica and Haiti…and zombies!

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From Hell by Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell. 2004 irregular-big trade paperback from Top Shelf. No designer/artist credited, but it’s clearly Campbell’s work.

One of my favorite scary novels ever. I reviewed it like a decade ago on this site. I found this postcard in it, a collage by the surealist Jacques Prévert:

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The postcard, from James Cooke, included this text, a quote of Cormac McCarthy’s horror novel Blood Meridian:

They entered the city haggard and filthy and reeking with the blood of the citizenry for whose protection they had contracted.

James won a postcard-based contest on this site like a decade ago, god love him.

 

 

A review of Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon

151835599518773205

Zora Neale Hurston’s 1931 book Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” has finally been published. The book is based on Hurston’s 1927 interviews with Cudjo Lewis, the last known survivor of the transatlantic slave trade. Barracoon went previously unpublished due in part to Hurston’s refusal to revise the prose into a “standard” English. Hurston wrote Barracoon in a phonetic approximation of Cudjo’s voice. While this vernacular style may pose (initial) challenges for many readers, it is the very soul of the book in that it transmits Cudjo’s story in his own voice, tone, and rhythm. Hurston used vernacular diction throughout her work, but Cudjo’s voice is singular; it bears a distinctly different sound than the characters of Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston’s most famous novel. It is hard to conceive a more compelling version of Barracoon than this one, the one Hurston refused to compromise, with its intense, vital orality.

What is Barracoon about? I shall liberally borrow my summary from the book’s introduction, penned by Hurston scholar and biographer Deborah G. Plant:

On December 14, 1927, Zora Neale Hurston took the 3:40 p.m. train from Penn Station, New York, to Mobile, to conduct a series of interviews with the last known surviving African of the last American slaver—the Clotilda. His name was Kossola, but he was called Cudjo Lewis. He was held as a slave for five and a half years in Plateau-Magazine Point, Alabama, from 1860 until Union soldiers told him he was free. Kossola lived out the rest of his life in Africatown (Plateau). Hurston’s trip south was a continuation of the field trip expedition she had initiated the previous year.

Oluale Kossola had survived capture at the hands of Dahomian warriors, the barracoons at Whydah (Ouidah), and the Middle Passage. He had been enslaved, he had lived through the Civil War and the largely un-Reconstructed South, and he had endured the rule of Jim Crow. He had experienced the dawn of a new millennium that included World War I and the Great Depression. Within the magnitude of world events swirled the momentous events of Kossola’s own personal world.

Zora Neale Hurston, as a cultural anthropologist, ethnographer, and folklorist, was eager to inquire into his experiences. “I want to know who you are,” she approached Kossola, “and how you came to be a slave; and to what part of Africa do you belong, and how you fared as a slave, and how you have managed as a free man?” Kossola absorbed her every question, then raised a tearful countenance. “Thankee Jesus! Somebody come ast about Cudjo! I want tellee somebody who I is, so maybe dey go in de Afficky soil some day and callee my name and somebody say, ‘Yeah, I know Kossula.’”

Those final sentences should give you a quick taste of Barracoon’s central rhetorical conceit. After her own introductory chapter (which details the historical circumstances of the Clotilda’s illegal journey to West Africa), Hurston lets Cudjo inspirit the text, telling his own story in his own voice. Hurston, who spent three months with Cudjo, initially interposes herself in the story, as we see early in the book’s first chapter:

“My grandpa, he a great man. I tellee you how he go.”

I was afraid that Cudjo might go off on a tangent, so I cut in with, “But Kossula, I want to hear about you and how you lived in Africa.”

He gave me a look full of scornful pity and asked, “Where is de house where de mouse is de leader? In de Affica soil I cain tellee you ’bout de son before I tellee you ’bout de father; and derefore, you unnerstand me, I cain talk about de man who is father (et te) till I tellee you bout de man who he father to him, (et, te, te, grandfather) now, dass right ain’ it?

This brief “cutting in” is one of the last moments in the narrative that Hurston attempts to steer Cudjo in a particular direction. Instead, she befriends the old man, bringing him watermelons, hams, peaches, and other treats. These little gifts serve to frame Cudjo’s narrative as he moves from one episode to the next. Otherwise, Hurston disappears into the background, an ear for Cudjo’s voice, a witness for his story.

Cudjo’s story is astounding. He describes life in his own West African village and the terrible slaughter of his people at the hands of “de people of Dahomey,” a tribe that eventually sells Cudjo and the other young people of his village to white men. Cudjo describes his early enslavement in Alabama, which took place in secret until the Civil War, and his eventual freedom from bondage. He tells Hurston about the founding of Africatown, a community of West Africans. He describes his life after capture and slavery—his marriage, his children, his near-fatal railroad accident. Cudjo’s life and his children’s lives were incredibly difficult. They were always othered:

“All de time de chillun growin’ de American folks dey picks at dem and tell de Afficky people dey kill folks and eatee de meat. Dey callee my chillun ig’nant savage and make out dey kin to monkey.

“Derefo’, you unnerstand me, my boys dey fight. Dey got to fight all de time. Me and dey mama doan lak to hear our chillun call savage. It hurtee dey feelings. Derefo’ dey fight. Dey fight hard. When dey whip de other boys, dey folks come to our house and tellee us, ‘Yo’ boys mighty bad, Cudjo. We ’fraid they goin’ kill somebody.”

Somehow most devastating in a narrative full of devastation are the deaths of Cudjo’s children. After his daughter dies in infancy, his namesake is killed by a sheriff, a scene that resonates with terrible pain in 2018:

Nine year we hurtee inside ’bout our baby. Den we git hurtee again. Somebody call hisself a deputy sheriff kill de baby boy now.

He say he de law, but he doan come ’rest him. If my boy done something wrong, it his place come ’rest him lak a man. If he mad wid my Cudjo ’bout something den he oughter come fight him face to face lak a man. He doan come ’rest him lak no sheriff and he doan come fight him lak no man.

Another of his sons is decapitated in a railroad accident. A third son, angry with the injustice of the world, simply disappears: “My boy gone. He ain’ in de house and he ain’ on de hill wid his mama. We both missee him. I doan know. Maybe dey kill my boy. It a hidden mystery.”

Cudjo, ever the survivor, went on to outlive his wife and all of his children.  In her foreword to Barracoon, Alice Walker captures the pain and pathos of this remarkable position:

And then, the story of Cudjo Lewis’s life after Emancipation. His happiness with “freedom,” helping to create a community, a church, building his own house. His tender love for his wife, Seely, and their children. The horrible deaths that follow. We see a man so lonely for Africa, so lonely for his family, we are struck with the realization that he is naming something we ourselves work hard to avoid: how lonely we are too in this still foreign land: lonely for our true culture, our people, our singular connection to a specific understanding of the Universe. And that what we long for, as in Cudjo Lewis’s case, is gone forever. But we see something else: the nobility of a soul that has suffered to the point almost of erasure, and still it struggles to be whole, present, giving.

I cannot improve on Walker’s phrase here. Hurston brings that “nobility of soul” to life via Cudjo’s own rich language.

While Barracoon is of a piece with Hurston’s anthropological collections Mules and Men and Tell My Horse, it does not read like an autoethnography. It is rather a compelling first-person narrative. Hurston collecteed stories from Cudjo–fables, parables, games—but these are included as an appendix, a wise narrative choice as any attempt to integrate them into the main narrative would hardly be seamless. The appendix adds to the text’s richness without imposing on it, and links it to Hurston’s work as a folklorist.

I’ve noted some of the additional material already—Walker’s foreword, the appendix of folklore, as well as Plant’s introduction. Included also is an afterword by Plant that contextualizes Barracoon within Hurston’s academic career, a list of the original residents of Africatown, a glossary, a bibliography, and a lengthy compendium of endnotes. This editorial material frames the historic and academic importance of Barracoon, and will be of great interest to anyone who wishes to study the subject more. However, Cudjo’s narrative stands on its own as a sad, compelling, essential story. It’s amazing it took this long to reach a wider audience. Recommended.

[Ed. note–this review originally ran in May, 2018.]

A review of Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon

151835599518773205

Zora Neale Hurston’s 1931 book Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” has finally been published. The book is based on Hurston’s 1927 interviews with Cudjo Lewis, the last known survivor of the transatlantic slave trade. Barracoon went previously unpublished due in part to Hurston’s refusal to revise the prose into a “standard” English. Hurston wrote Barracoon in a phonetic approximation of Cudjo’s voice. While this vernacular style may pose (initial) challenges for many readers, it is the very soul of the book in that it transmits Cudjo’s story in his own voice, tone, and rhythm. Hurston used vernacular diction throughout her work, but Cudjo’s voice is singular; it bears a distinctly different sound than the characters of Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston’s most famous novel. It is hard to conceive a more compelling version of Barracoon than this one, the one Hurston refused to compromise, with its intense, vital orality.

What is Barracoon about? I shall liberally borrow my summary from the book’s introduction, penned by Hurston scholar and biographer Deborah G. Plant:

On December 14, 1927, Zora Neale Hurston took the 3:40 p.m. train from Penn Station, New York, to Mobile, to conduct a series of interviews with the last known surviving African of the last American slaver—the Clotilda. His name was Kossola, but he was called Cudjo Lewis. He was held as a slave for five and a half years in Plateau-Magazine Point, Alabama, from 1860 until Union soldiers told him he was free. Kossola lived out the rest of his life in Africatown (Plateau). Hurston’s trip south was a continuation of the field trip expedition she had initiated the previous year.

Oluale Kossola had survived capture at the hands of Dahomian warriors, the barracoons at Whydah (Ouidah), and the Middle Passage. He had been enslaved, he had lived through the Civil War and the largely un-Reconstructed South, and he had endured the rule of Jim Crow. He had experienced the dawn of a new millennium that included World War I and the Great Depression. Within the magnitude of world events swirled the momentous events of Kossola’s own personal world.

Zora Neale Hurston, as a cultural anthropologist, ethnographer, and folklorist, was eager to inquire into his experiences. “I want to know who you are,” she approached Kossola, “and how you came to be a slave; and to what part of Africa do you belong, and how you fared as a slave, and how you have managed as a free man?” Kossola absorbed her every question, then raised a tearful countenance. “Thankee Jesus! Somebody come ast about Cudjo! I want tellee somebody who I is, so maybe dey go in de Afficky soil some day and callee my name and somebody say, ‘Yeah, I know Kossula.’”

Those final sentences should give you a quick taste of Barracoon’s central rhetorical conceit. After her own introductory chapter (which details the historical circumstances of the Clotilda’s illegal journey to West Africa), Hurston lets Cudjo inspirit the text, telling his own story in his own voice. Hurston, who spent three months with Cudjo, initially interposes herself in the story, as we see early in the book’s first chapter:

“My grandpa, he a great man. I tellee you how he go.”

I was afraid that Cudjo might go off on a tangent, so I cut in with, “But Kossula, I want to hear about you and how you lived in Africa.”

He gave me a look full of scornful pity and asked, “Where is de house where de mouse is de leader? In de Affica soil I cain tellee you ’bout de son before I tellee you ’bout de father; and derefore, you unnerstand me, I cain talk about de man who is father (et te) till I tellee you bout de man who he father to him, (et, te, te, grandfather) now, dass right ain’ it?

This brief “cutting in” is one of the last moments in the narrative that Hurston attempts to steer Cudjo in a particular direction. Instead, she befriends the old man, bringing him watermelons, hams, peaches, and other treats. These little gifts serve to frame Cudjo’s narrative as he moves from one episode to the next. Otherwise, Hurston disappears into the background, an ear for Cudjo’s voice, a witness for his story.

Cudjo’s story is astounding. He describes life in his own West African village and the terrible slaughter of his people at the hands of “de people of Dahomey,” a tribe that eventually sells Cudjo and the other young people of his village to white men. Cudjo describes his early enslavement in Alabama, which took place in secret until the Civil War, and his eventual freedom from bondage. He tells Hurston about the founding of Africatown, a community of West Africans. He describes his life after capture and slavery—his marriage, his children, his near-fatal railroad accident. Cudjo’s life and his children’s lives were incredibly difficult. They were always othered:

“All de time de chillun growin’ de American folks dey picks at dem and tell de Afficky people dey kill folks and eatee de meat. Dey callee my chillun ig’nant savage and make out dey kin to monkey.

“Derefo’, you unnerstand me, my boys dey fight. Dey got to fight all de time. Me and dey mama doan lak to hear our chillun call savage. It hurtee dey feelings. Derefo’ dey fight. Dey fight hard. When dey whip de other boys, dey folks come to our house and tellee us, ‘Yo’ boys mighty bad, Cudjo. We ’fraid they goin’ kill somebody.”

Somehow most devastating in a narrative full of devastation are the deaths of Cudjo’s children. After his daughter dies in infancy, his namesake is killed by a sheriff, a scene that resonates with terrible pain in 2018:

Nine year we hurtee inside ’bout our baby. Den we git hurtee again. Somebody call hisself a deputy sheriff kill de baby boy now.

He say he de law, but he doan come ’rest him. If my boy done something wrong, it his place come ’rest him lak a man. If he mad wid my Cudjo ’bout something den he oughter come fight him face to face lak a man. He doan come ’rest him lak no sheriff and he doan come fight him lak no man.

Another of his sons is decapitated in a railroad accident. A third son, angry with the injustice of the world, simply disappears: “My boy gone. He ain’ in de house and he ain’ on de hill wid his mama. We both missee him. I doan know. Maybe dey kill my boy. It a hidden mystery.”

Cudjo, ever the survivor, went on to outlive his wife and all of his children.  In her foreword to Barracoon, Alice Walker captures the pain and pathos of this remarkable position:

And then, the story of Cudjo Lewis’s life after Emancipation. His happiness with “freedom,” helping to create a community, a church, building his own house. His tender love for his wife, Seely, and their children. The horrible deaths that follow. We see a man so lonely for Africa, so lonely for his family, we are struck with the realization that he is naming something we ourselves work hard to avoid: how lonely we are too in this still foreign land: lonely for our true culture, our people, our singular connection to a specific understanding of the Universe. And that what we long for, as in Cudjo Lewis’s case, is gone forever. But we see something else: the nobility of a soul that has suffered to the point almost of erasure, and still it struggles to be whole, present, giving.

I cannot improve on Walker’s phrase here. Hurston brings that “nobility of soul” to life via Cudjo’s own rich language.

While Barracoon is of a piece with Hurston’s anthropological collections Mules and Men and Tell My Horse, it does not read like an autoethnography. It is rather a compelling first-person narrative. Hurston collecteed stories from Cudjo–fables, parables, games—but these are included as an appendix, a wise narrative choice as any attempt to integrate them into the main narrative would hardly be seamless. The appendix adds to the text’s richness without imposing on it, and links it to Hurston’s work as a folklorist.

I’ve noted some of the additional material already—Walker’s foreword, the appendix of folklore, as well as Plant’s introduction. Included also is an afterword by Plant that contextualizes Barracoon within Hurston’s academic career, a list of the original residents of Africatown, a glossary, a bibliography, and a lengthy compendium of endnotes. This editorial material frames the historic and academic importance of Barracoon, and will be of great interest to anyone who wishes to study the subject more. However, Cudjo’s narrative stands on its own as a sad, compelling, essential story. It’s amazing it took this long to reach a wider audience. Recommended.

 

Zora Neale Hurston’s hand-drawn Christmas card

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Zora Neale Hurston’s hand-drawn Christmas card (1926). From Fannie Hurst’s papers at the Harry Ransom center in Austin, TX. Via the Ransom Center’s Instagram account.

Zora Neale Hurston’s Mulatto Rice

At the beginning of Zora Neale Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie returns from the Everglades to Eatonville in ragged overalls to a gossipy and unwelcoming town. The one exception is her best friend Phoeby, who brings Janie a “heaping plate of mulatto rice.” Janie gobbles up the simple, delicious meal, even as Phoeby notes that it “ain’t so good dis time. Not enough bacon grease.” She does however concede that “it’ll kill hongry.” No doubt.

We’ve always been intrigued by mulatto rice. What could it be? Is the dish still around today, but under a new name? Although the term “mulatto” has fallen into disuse, and perhaps distaste (just ask Larry David if you don’t believe us), organizations like mulatto.org have also taken a certain ownership of it. For Hurston, mulatto rice is a positive thing. Hurston could have had Phoeby bring any number of dishes to her friend Janie, so it’s telling that she chooses “mulatto rice” as a homecoming meal. The dish represents a communion, an admixture that reflects Janie’s multiracial identity as well as her resistance to gender-typing. “Mulatto” is also probably etymologically akin to the word “mule,” and if you’ve read Eyes, you know that mules are a major motif in the story. But enough literazin’.

Down to the nitty-gritty–we made up a mess of mulatto rice tonight thanks to a recipe from The Savannah Cook Book by Harriet Ross Colquitt. Not that we found this 1933 cookbook ourselves. No, the real merit here goes to the very cool website Take One Cookbook, which explores the history and culture and sociology behind old, weird cookbooks–all while making the recipes. Colquitt’s recipe, via Wendy at Take One Cookbook (see Wendy’s versionhere):

Mulatto Rice

This is the very chic name given to rice with a touch of the tarbrush.

Fry squares of breakfast bacon and remove from the pan. Then brown some minced onion (one small one) in this grease, and add one pint can of tomatoes. When thoroughly hot, add a pint of rice to this mixture, and cook very slowly until the rice is done. Or, if you are in a hurry, cold rice may be substituted, and all warmed thoroughly together.

The rice is very easy to make and very, very tasty. We substituted green onions for a small onion, and used a hickory-smoked bacon that infused the rice with a lovely sweetness (we also included a tablespoon of brown sugar right after the tomatoes). We served the dish, pictured above, with ham steaks and fried green tomatoes with a spicy yogurt sauce. Hearty and rich and satisfying–just the sort of thing one wants to eat after a soul-searching quest (or maybe just a long day). Recommended.

Read Zora Neale Hurston’s short story “Black Death”

“Black Death”

by

Zora Neale Hurston


 

We Negroes in Eatonville know a number of things that the hustling, bustling white man never dreams of. He is a materialist with little care for overtones. They have only eyes and ears, we see with the skin.

For instance, if a white person were halted on the streets of Orlando and told that Old Man Morgan, the excessively black Negro hoodoo man, can kill any person indicated and paid for, without ever leaving his house or even seeing his victim, he’d laugh in your face and walk away, wondering how long the Negro will continue to wallow in ignorance and superstition. But no black person in a radius of twenty miles will smile, not much. They know.

His achievements are far too numerous to mention singly. Besides, any of his cures of “conjures” are kept secret. But everybody knows that he put the loveless curse on Bella Lewis. She has been married seven times but none of her husbands have ever remained with her longer than the twenty-eight days that Morgan had prescribed as the limit.

Hirma Lester’s left track was brought to him with five dollars and when the new moon came again, Lester was stricken with paralysis while working in his orange grove.

There was the bloody-flux that he put on Lucy Potts; he caused Emma Taylor’s teeth to drop out; he put the shed skin of a black snake in Horsos Brown’s shoes and made him as the Wandering Jew; he put a sprig of Lena Merchant’s hair in a bottle, corked it and threw it into a running stream with the neck pointing upstream, and she went crazy; he buried Lillie Wilcox’s finger-nails with lizard’s feet and dried up her blood.

All of these things and more can easily be proved by the testimony
of the villagers. They ought to know.

He lives alone in a two-room hut down by Lake Blue Sink, the bottomless . His eyes are reddish and the large gold hoop ear-rings jangling on either side of his shrunken black face make the children fly in terror whenever they meet him on the street or in the woods where he goes to dig roots for his medicines. Continue reading “Read Zora Neale Hurston’s short story “Black Death””

Happy Thanksgiving! Here’s a bunch of literary recipes and a painting

Merry Family, Jan Steen, 1688
Merry Family, Jan Steen, 1688

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Turkey Twelve Ways

Gordon Lish’s Chicken Soup

Zora Neale Hurston’s Mulatto Rice

Roberto Bolaño’s Brussels Sprouts with Lemon

Ian McEwan’s Fish Stew

James Joyce’s Burnt Kidney Breakfast

Herman Melville’s Whale Steaks

Ernest Hemingway’s Absinthe Cocktail, Death in the Afternoon

Vladimir Nabokov’s Eggs à la Nabocoque

Thomas Pynchon’s Banana Breakfast

Cormac McCarthy’s Turtle Soup

Robert Crumb’s Macaroni Casserole

Truman Capote’s Caviar-Smothered Baked Potatoes with 80-Proof Russian Vodka

Emily Dickinson’s Cocoanut Cake

Thomas Jefferson’s Vanilla Ice Cream

Charles Dickens’s Own Punch

Ben Jonson’s Egg Wine

Willam Faulkner’s Hot Toddy

Christmas Bonus:  George Orwell’s Recipes for Plum Cake and Christmas Pudding

“How Jack O’Lanterns Came To Be” — Zora Neale Hurston

From Zora Neale Hurston’s novelization of folklore, Mules and Men:

It was slavery time, Zora, when Big Sixteen was a man. They called ‘im Sixteen  cause dat was de number of de shoe he wore. He was big and strong and Ole Massa looked to him to do everything.

One day Ole Massa said, “Big Sixteen, Ah b’lieve Ah want you to move dem sills Ah had hewed out down in de swamp.

“I yassuh, Massa.”

Big Sixteen went down in de swamp and picked up dem 12 X 12’s and brought ’em on up to de house and stack ,em. No one man ain’t never toted a 12 X 12 befo’ nor since.

So Ole Massa said one day, “Go fetch in de mules. Ah want to look ’em over.”

Big Sixteen went on down to, de pasture and caught dem mules by de bridle but they was contrary and balky and he tore de bridles to pieces pullin’ on ’em, so he picked one of ’em up under each arm and brought ’em up to Old Massa.

He says, “Big Sixteen, if you kin tote a pair of balky mules, you kin do anything. You kin ketch de Devil.”

“Yassuh, Ah kin, if you git me a nine-pound hammer and a pick and shovel!”

Ole Massa got Sixteen de things he ast for and tole ‘im to go ahead and bring him de Devil.

Big Sixteen went out in front of de house and went to diggin’. He was diggin’ nearly a month befo’ he got where he wanted. Then he took his hammer and went and knocked on de Devil’s door. Devil answered de door hisself.

“Who dat out dere?”

“It’s Big Sixteen.”

“What you want?”

“Wanta have a word wid you for a minute.”

Soon as de Devil poked his head out de door, Sixteen him over de head wid dat hammer and picked ‘im  up and carried ‘im back to Old Massa.

Ole Massa looked at de dead Devil and hollered, “Take dat ugly thing ‘way from here, quick! Ah didn’t think you’d, ketch de Devil sho ’nuff.”

So Sixteen picked up de Devil and throwed ‘im back down de hole.

Way after while, Big Sixteen died and went up to Heben. But Peter looked at him and tole ‘im to g’wan ‘way from dere. He was too powerful. He might git outa order and there wouldn’t be nobody to handle ‘im. But he had to, go somewhere so he went on to hell.

Soon as he got to de gate de Devil’s children was playin’ in de yard and they seen ‘im and run to de house, says, “Mama, mama! Dat man’s out dere dat kilt papa!”

So she called ‘im in de house and shet de door. When Sixteen got dere she handed ‘im a li’l piece of fire and said, “You ain’t comin’ in here. Here, take dis hot coal and g’wan off and start you a hell uh yo’ own.”

So when you see a Jack O’Lantern in de woods at night you know it’s Big Sixteen wid his piece of fire lookin’ for a  place to go.

Portrait of Zora Neale Hurston — Carl Van Vechten

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“The Monstropolous Beast Had Left His Bed” — Zora Neale Hurston’s Hurricane

In Chapter 18 of her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston imagines a hurricane descending on the Everglades as a cosmic monster. Her description comes in part from accounts of the 1928 Great Lake Okeechobee Hurricane—

Ten feet higher and far as they could see the muttering wall advanced before the braced-up waters like a road crusher on a cosmic scale. The monstropolous beast had left his bed. Two hundred miles an hour wind had loosed his chains. He seized hold of his dikes and ran forward until he met the quarters; uprooted them like grass and rushed on after his supposed-to- be conquerors, rolling the dikes, rolling the houses, rolling the people in the houses along with other timbers. The sea was walking the earth with a heavy heel.

Three Books

Mitsou by Balthus. Preface by Rainer Maria Rilke (English translation by Richard Miller).  Small first edition hardback published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1984. Design credited to Peter Oldenburg; the cover illustration is by Balthus. Mitsou is Balthus’s story of loving (and losing) his titular pet cat. He was thirteen when he composed the story in 40 ink drawings (the drawings resemble woodblock prints, but aren’t). He gave the illustrations to his mother’s lover, Rainer Maria Rilke, who got them published. My wife gave me this book as a gift before we were married, and I love it. It’s sad.

Moses, Man of the Mountain by Zora Neale Hurston. First edition hardback by J.B. Lippincott, 1939. No illustrator or designer credited, by my edition is missing the original jacket. A retelling of the Exodus story.

 Man after Man by Dougal Dixon with illustrations by Philip Hood. First edition hardback from St. Martin’s Press, 1990. Book design by Ben Cracknell; cover art by Philip Hood. It’s Hood’s illustrations that make Dixon’s “future anthropology” of the human race so fascinating. A discursive sci-fi novel of sorts, posing as a textbook.

A short film adaptation of Zora Neale Hurston’s “The Gilded Six-Bits”

Booker T. Mattison’s 2001 short film adaptation of Zora Neale Hurston’s short story “The Gilded Six-Bits” features Wendell Pierce (of The Wire and Treme), Chad Coleman (The WireThe Walking Dead) and T’Keyah Crystal Keymáh (In Living ColorJackie Brown,

“What’s Friday got to do with the mockin’ bird?” (Zora Neale Hurston)

“What’s de matter, Ah don’t hear no birds?” complained Eugene Oliver. “It don’t seem natural.”

Everybody looked up at one time like cows in a pasture.

“Oh you know how come we don’t hear no birds. It’s Friday and de mocking bird ain’t here,” said Big Sweet after a period of observation.

“What’s Friday got to do with the mockin’ bird?” Eugene challenged.

“Dat’s exactly what Ah want to know,” said Joe Wiley.,

“Well,” said Big Sweet. “Nobody never sees no mockin’ bird on Friday. They ain’t on earth dat day.”

“Well, if they ain’t on earth, where is they?”

“They’s all gone to hell on Friday with a grain of sand in they mouth to help out they friend.” She continued:

Once there was a man and he was very wicked. He useter rob and steal and he was always in a fight and killin’ up people. But he was awful good to birds and mockin’ birds was his favorite. This was a long time ago before de man first started to buildin’ de Rocky Mountains. Well, ‘ way after while somebody kilt him, and being he had done lived so bad, when he died he went straight to hell.

De birds all hated it mighty bad when they seen him in hell, so they tried to git him out. But the fire was too hot so they give up–all but de mockin’ birds. They come together and decided to tote sand until they squenched de fire in hell. So they set a day and they all agreed on it. Every Friday they,totes sand to hell. And that’s how come nobody don’t never see no mockin’ birds on Friday.

 

Happy Thanksgiving! Here’s a bunch of literary recipes and a Bosch painting

Enjoy Thanksgiving with this menu of literary recipes:

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Turkey Twelve Ways

Gordon Lish’s Chicken Soup

Zora Neale Hurston’s Mulatto Rice

Ian McEwan’s Fish Stew

James Joyce’s Burnt Kidney Breakfast

Herman Melville’s Whale Steaks

Ernest Hemingway’s Absinthe Cocktail, Death in the Afternoon

Vladimir Nabokov’s Eggs à la Nabocoque

Thomas Pynchon’s Banana Breakfast

Cormac McCarthy’s Turtle Soup

Robert Crumb’s Macaroni Casserole

Truman Capote’s Caviar-Smothered Baked Potatoes with 80-Proof Russian Vodka

Emily Dickinson’s Cocoanut Cake

Thomas Jefferson’s Vanilla Ice Cream

Charles Dickens’s Own Punch

Ben Jonson’s Egg Wine

Willam Faulkner’s Hot Toddy

Christmas Bonus:  George Orwell’s Recipes for Plum Cake and Christmas Pudding

“How Jack O’Lanterns Came To Be” — Zora Neale Hurston

From Zora Neale Hurston’s novelization of folklore, Mules and Men:

It was slavery time, Zora, when Big Sixteen was a man. They called ‘im Sixteen  cause dat was de number of de shoe he wore. He was big and strong and Ole Massa looked to him to do everything.

One day Ole Massa said, “Big Sixteen, Ah b’lieve Ah want you to move dem sills Ah had hewed out down in de swamp.

“I yassuh, Massa.”

Big Sixteen went down in de swamp and picked up dem 12 X 12’s and brought ’em on up to de house and stack ,em. No one man ain’t never toted a 12 X 12 befo’ nor since.

So Ole Massa said one day, “Go fetch in de mules. Ah want to look ’em over.”

Big Sixteen went on down to, de pasture and caught dem mules by de bridle but they was contrary and balky and he tore de bridles to pieces pullin’ on ’em, so he picked one of ’em up under each arm and brought ’em up to Old Massa.

He says, “Big Sixteen, if you kin tote a pair of balky mules, you kin do anything. You kin ketch de Devil.”

“Yassuh, Ah kin, if you git me a nine-pound hammer and a pick and shovel!”

Ole Massa got Sixteen de things he ast for and tole ‘im to go ahead and bring him de Devil.

Big Sixteen went out in front of de house and went to diggin’. He was diggin’ nearly a month befo’ he got where he wanted. Then he took his hammer and went and knocked on de Devil’s door. Devil answered de door hisself.

“Who dat out dere?”

“It’s Big Sixteen.”

“What you want?”

“Wanta have a word wid you for a minute.”

Soon as de Devil poked his head out de door, Sixteen him over de head wid dat hammer and picked ‘im  up and carried ‘im back to Old Massa.

Ole Massa looked at de dead Devil and hollered, “Take dat ugly thing ‘way from here, quick! Ah didn’t think you’d, ketch de Devil sho ’nuff.”

So Sixteen picked up de Devil and throwed ‘im back down de hole.

Way after while, Big Sixteen died and went up to Heben. But Peter looked at him and tole ‘im to g’wan ‘way from dere. He was too powerful. He might git outa order and there wouldn’t be nobody to handle ‘im. But he had to, go somewhere so he went on to hell.

Soon as he got to de gate de Devil’s children was playin’ in de yard and they seen ‘im and run to de house, says, “Mama, mama! Dat man’s out dere dat kilt papa!”

So she called ‘im in de house and shet de door. When Sixteen got dere she handed ‘im a li’l piece of fire and said, “You ain’t comin’ in here. Here, take dis hot coal and g’wan off and start you a hell uh yo’ own.”

So when you see a Jack O’Lantern in de woods at night you know it’s Big Sixteen wid his piece of fire lookin’ for a  place to go.

Three Books

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Killers of the Dream by Lillian Smith. Doubleday Anchor, 1963 mass market paperback edition. Cover design by George Giusti. Smith’s memoir-essay-critique is an underappreciated masterful dissection of the South in particular and humanity in general.IMG_0047

Moses, Man of the Mountain by Zora Neale Hurston. First-edition clothbound hardback from J. B. Lippincott, 1939. The dust jacket is missing, and no designer is credited in the book. I picked this up for eight dollars a few years ago. I lent my paperback copy to a student years ago; she never returned it. (Good for her!).IMG_0048

Afro-Cuban Tales by Lydia Cabrera. 2004 trade paperback by the University of Nebraska Press. Book design by R. Eckersley; cover illustration by Lydia Cabrera. Cabrera (1899-1991), an ethnographer, went beyond documenting the tales and fables of her native Cuba: she synthesized them into new tellings, new variations (not unlike Zora Neale Hurston’s folklore work in Mules and Men and Tell My Horse). Cabrera deserves a wider audience.