Contemporary Reviews

The following selected reviews of Hurston's work aim to represent how her major works were received at the time of publication. Along with a list of reviews, we also provide selected excerpts from the reviews themselves. As the site develops, we will also provide reviews and review excerpts regarding Hurston's less well known works as well.

Jonah's Gourd Vine, 1934 (novel).

  • New York Post, May 5, 1934, Herschel Brickell, p. 13. Hurston "has authentic talent of a high quality and ought to go far with the start she has made . . . . Many people do not read dialect, and this is the only reason I can think of that will stop Jonah's Gourd Vine from being popular."

  • Boston Chronicel, May 5, 1934. Jonah's Gourd Vine "presents openly the greatest problem of the Negro in all its universality: the utterly inescapable interrelation of sex, success, and society."

  • The New York Times Book Review, "Real Negro People," May 6, 1934, Margaret Wallace, pp. 6–7. "Jonah's Gourd can be called without fear of exaggeration the most vital and original novel about the American Negro that has yet been written by a member of the Negro race. . . . Unlike the dialect in most novels about the American Negro, this does not seem to be merely the speech of white men with the spelling distorted. Its essence lies rather in the rhythm and balance of the sentences, in the warm artlessness of the phrasing . . . Not the least charm of the book, however, is its language: rich, expressive, and lacking in self–conscious artifice. From the rolling and dignified rhythms of John's last sermon to the humorous aptness of such a word as "shickalacked," to express the noise and motion of a locomotive, there will be much in it to delight the reader. It is hoped that Miss Hurston will give us other novels in the same colorful idiom."

  • New York Herald Tribune Books, "A Pungent, Poetic Novel," May 6, 1934, Josephine Pinckney, p. 7. "The author writes as a Negro understanding her people and having opportunities that could come to no white person, however sympathetic, of seeing them when they are utterly themselves. But she writes as a Negro whose intelligence is firmly in the saddle, who recognizes the value of an objective style in writing, and who is able to use the wealth of material available to her with detachment and with a full grasp of its dramatic qualities."

  • Books, May 6, 1934, p.7. "The atmosphere is rich and highly affecting; the cotton–country speech is laden with humor, ancient poetry, and folk wisdom. John, the hero, has a folk quality, a superhuman strength, beauty, eloquence, and generosity that make him irresistible to all the other characters, particularly to the women. . . . Certain faults in construction, certain telescopings of years and events do not matter, if the book is read thus as an abundant fairy tale."

  • New York Age. May 6, 1934, Mary White Ovington, v. 48, no. 35, p. 6.

  • The Crisis, June 1934, Andrew Burris, v. 41, pp. 166–67. "Now Miss Hurston has written a book, and despite the enthusiastic praise on the jacket by such eminent literary connoisseurs as Carl Van Vechten, Fannie Hurst, and Blanche Colton Williams, all sponsors for the New Negro, this reviewer is compelled to report that Jonah's Gourd Vine is quite disappointing and a failure as a novel . . . The defects of Miss Hurston's novel become the more glaring when her work is placed bedside that of contemporary white authors of similar books about their own people–such as the first half of Fielding Burke's novel of North Carolina hillbillies, Call Home the Heart, or two novels of Arkansas mountaineers, Mountain Born by Emmet Gowen and Woods Colt by T.R. Williamson. The first two names are, like Miss Hurston's, first novels, and we feel that it is not asking too much of her to expect that in writing novels about her own people she give us work of equal merit to these . . . . Lest this criticism of Jonah's Gourd Vine seem too severe, let us add that there is much about the book that is fine and distinctive, and enjoyable. Zora Hurston has assembled between the pages of the book a rich store of folklore. She has captured the lusciousness and beauty of the Negro dialect as have few others . . . These factors give the book an earthiness, a distinctly racial flavor, a somewhat primitive beauty which makes its defects the more regrettable. We can but hope that with time and further experience in the craft of writing, Zora Hurston will develope the ability to fuse her abundant material into a fine literary work."

  • New Republic, July 11, 1934. "Darktown Strutter." Martha Gruening, v. 79, no. 11, pp. 244–45. "Candor like Miss Hurston's is still sufficiently rare among Negro writers. It is only one of the excellences of this book."

  • North American Review, July 1934, Herschel Brickell, v. 238, pp. 95–96. [It is] "a remarkably good Negro novel." "The framework of the book is less commendable than its fine, juicy and eminently natural humor, and its record of curious folkways."

  • Booklist, July, 1934, v. 30, no. 11, p. 351.

  • Opportunity, August 1934. Estelle Felton, 612, no. 8, pp. 252–53. Miss Hurston approached her task with a knowledge of Negro dialect and customs that is rare in contemporary writers . . . .Although Miss Hurston has the ability to paint clear and vivid pictures of Negro life, her style at times falls flat . . . In plot construction and characterization, Miss Hurston is a disappointment . . . . It seems as if Miss Hurston has not painted people but caricatures of people . . . . Jonah's Gourd Vine is Miss Hurston's first novel, and the weaknesses which appear in it may be eradicated in future stories."

  • Times [London] Literary Supplement, October 18, 1934, pp.716–17. "The tone of the novel is grave and gay by turns and all through is free from the violence of many novels of Negro life."

  • Saturday Review, November 3, 1934, v. 158, p. 344. "It is a story into which enter many familiar and persistent elements of Negro life, whether in Africa or America–eloquence, humour, warmth, gusto, revivalism, superstition, witchcraft."

  • Spectrum, January 4, 1935, William Plomer, v. 154, p. 25. "If the reader is prepared to grapple with phonetic complications, which include the word 'unhunh,' he will be rewarded by a genuine and in many ways admirable tale of Negro life . . . "

Mules and Men, 1935 (folklore)

  • The New York Herald Tribune Weekly Book Review, October 11, 1935, Lewis Gannett. "The result is Mules and Men, and I can't remember anything better since Uncle Remus . . . . Some of these 'lies' are sheer tall tales; some are Bible legends. Scattered, in this book, with liberal dosages of realistic contempt for men who take to preaching because they do not like hard work in the sun; still others are out of that amazing mass of race poetry, still growing in the South . . ."

  • New York Herald Tribune Books, "Wit, Wisdom and Folklore, Samuel Gaillard Stoney, October 13, 1935, p. 7. "Any one who is interested in the Negro literature will find this work somewhat of a milestone, for the author has taken her people as neither better nor worse than any other race; but different as of their own right. She has been sincerely studious of their wit, their wisdom, and their beliefs, but she has never let accuracy become dull, or gusto for the life back of the things she reports be shadowed by the earnestness of her reporting."

  • Books , October 13, 1935, p.7.

  • Saturday Review of Literature , "Black Magic and Dark Laughter," October 19, 1935, Jonathan Daniels, v. 12, no. 15, p. 12. "No advantage of skin or blood could have produced the book which Miss Hurston brought back from the gay 'woofing' of Florida's lumber camps and the tawdry rituals off the little sinister streets in New Orleans Vieux Carre. Only an ability to write, a rare conjunction of the sense of the ridiculous and the sense of the dramatic, could have produced this remarkable collection of Negro folk tales and folk customs . . . . [It is] an altogether satisfying book."

  • The New York Times Book Review, November 10, 1935, H. I. Brock, p.4. "Here, to put it so, is the high color of Color as a racial element in the American scene . . . . This is an environment in the deep South to which the Negro is as native as he can be anywhere in this Western Continent . . . . But as the feast is spread here it is not always nursery fare–not by any means. Some of it is strong meat for those who take life lustily–with accompaniment of flashes of razor blades and great gusts of Negro laughter . . . . The book is packed with tall tales rich with flavor and alive with characteristic turns of speech. Those of us who have known the Southern Negro from our youth find him here speaking the language of his tribe as familiarly as if it came straight out of his own mouth and not translated into type and transmitted through the eye to the ear. This is to say that a very tricky dialect has been rendered with rare simplicity and fidelity into symbols so little adequate to convey its true value that the achievement is remarkable." /p>
  • New Republic, December 11, 1935, Henry Lee Moon, v. 85, p. 142. "As a result Mules and Men is more than a collection of folklore. It is a valuable picture of the life of the unsophisticated Negro in the small towns and backwoods of Florida . . . Miss Hurston presents her material with little attempt to evaluate it or to trace its origin. She records things as they were told to her, in an intimate and good style; and the intimacy she established with her subjects, she reproduces on the printed page, enabling the reader to feel himself a part of that circle."

  • North American, March 1936, T.C. Chubb, v. 241, p. 181. Mules and Men is "as good a portrayal of the negro's character as [the reader] is ever likely to see."

  • Spectator, March 6, 1936, v. 156, p. 403.

  • Times [London] Literary Supplement, March 7, 1936, p.200.

  • Manchester Guardian, April 7, 1936, E. N. Fallaize, p.7. "Miss Hurston's native insight into negro character gives her book a high value for the student of the race. The general reader will find it intensely amusing–none the less because the dialect is tempered to the uninitiated."

  • Nature, April 25, 1936, v. 137, p. 683. Mules and Men is "a remarkable production, which gives an illuminating view of negro society in the southern United States."

  • Journal of Negro History, April, 1936, v. 21, no. 2, pp. 223–25. Hurston shows in Mules and Men "something unique for a collection of folkways, the sort of running dialogue that would, in moderate use, form the local atmosphere of modern novels dealing with characters drawn from [the African–American] milieu."

  • Crisis, December, 1936, Harold Preece, v. 43, no.12, pp. 363, 367. Hurston "was devoting her literary abilities to recording the legendary amours of terrapins . . . The resentment of some Negro circles toward the work of Miss Hurston is easily explained . . . For when a Negro author describes her race with such a servile term as 'Mules and Men,' critical members of the race must necessarily evaluate the author as a literary climber."

  • The 111 Best American Ballads, Folk Song U.S.A., John A. and Alan Lomax, New York: Duell, Sloan, & Pearce, 1947, pp. 6–7. Mules and Men is a fine book of Negro folklore.

Their Eyes Were Watching God, 1937 (novel).

  • Saturday Review of Literature, "Negroes By Themselves," September 18, 1937, George Stevens, v. 26, no. 21, p. 3. "The only weak spots in the novel are technical; it begins awkwardly with a confusing and unnecessary preview of the end; and the dramatic action, as in the story of the hurricane, is sometimes hurriedly and clumsily handled. Otherwise the narration is exactly right, because most of it is in dialogue, and the dialogue gives us a constant sense of character in action."

  • Time, September 20, 1937, v. 30, no. 12, p. 71. Southerners would disregard "the equalitarian groupings implicit in the novel, while Northerners might well find in it some indigestible food for thought . . . . "An upstanding coffee–colored quadroon out lasts all three of her men–the last only because she was quicker on the trigger than he was–goes back to her village to rest in peace and to make her friends' eyes bug out at the tales of what she and life have done together."

  • The New York Times Book Review, "In the Florida Glades," Lucille Tompkins, September 26, 1937, p. 29. "This is Zora Hurston's third novel, again about her own people–and it is beautiful. It is about Negroes, and a good deal of it is written in dialect, but really it is about every one, or least every one who isn't as civilized that he has lost the capacity for glory . . . . Indeed, from first to last this is a well nigh perfect story–a little sententious at the start, but the rest is simple and beautiful and shining with humor. In case there are readers who have a chronic laziness about dialect, it should be added that the dialect here is very easy to follow, and the images it carries are irresistible."

  • The New York Herald Tribune Weekly Book Review "Vibrant Book Full of Nature and Salt," September 26, 1937, Sheila Hibben, p. 2. "Here is an author who writes with her head as well as with her heart, and at a time when there seems to be some principle of physics set dead against the appearance of novelists who give out a cheerful warmth at the same time write with intelligence. You have to be as tired as I am of writers who offer to do so much for folks as Atlas . . . to be as pleased as I am with Zora Hurston's lovely book . . . . As a great many novelists–good and bad–ought to know by this time, it is awfully easy to write nonsense about negroes. That Miss Hurston can write of them with simple tenderness, so that her story is filled with the ache of her own people, is, I think, due to the fact that she is not too much preoccupied with the current fetish of the primitive . . . . There is also death . . . Mostly, though, there is life–a swarming, passionate life, and in spite of the Tea Cake's tragic end and the crumbling of Janie's happiness, there is a sense of triumph and glory when the tale is done."

  • Books, September 26, 1937, S.A. Brown, p.2. "Many incidents are unusual, and there are narrative gaps in need of building up. Miss Hurston's forte is the recording and creation of folk–speech. Her devotion to these people has rewarded her; 'Their Eyes Were Watching God' is chockfull of earthy and touching poetry."

  • New York Times, September 26, 1937, George Stevens. p.29. "The only weak spots in the novel are technical; it begins awkwardly with a confusing and unnecessary preview of the end; and the dramatic action, as in the story of the hurricane, is sometimes hurriedly and clumsily handled. Otherwise the narration is exactly right, because most of it is in dialogue, and the dialogue gives us a constant sense of character in action."

  • New Masses, October 5, 1937, Richard Wright, pp. 22, 25. "It is difficult to evaluate Waters Turpin's These Low Grounds and Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. This is not because there is an esoteric meaning hidden or implied in either of the two novels; but rather because neither of the two novels has a basic idea or theme that lends itself to significant interpretation. Miss Hurston seems to have no desire whatever to move in the direction of serious fiction . . . . Miss Hurston can write; but her prose is cloaked in that facile sensuality that has dogged Negro expression since the days of Phillis Wheatley. Her dialogue manages to catch the psychological movements of the Negro folk–mind in their pure simplicity, but that's as far as it goes. Miss Hurston voluntarily continues in her novel the tradition which was forced upon the Negro in the theater, that is, the minstrel technique that makes the 'white folks' laugh. Her characters eat and laugh and cry and work and kill; they swing like a pendulum eternally in that sage and narrow orbit in which America likes to see the Negro love: between laughter and tears . . . . Turpin's faults as a writer are those of an honest man trying desperately to say something; but Zora Neale Hurston lacks even that excuse. The sensory sweep of her novel carries no theme, no message, no thought. In the main, her novel is not addressed to the Negro, but to a white audience whose chauvinistic tastes she knows how to satisfy. She exploits the phase of Negro life which is 'quaint,' the phase which evokes a piteous smile on the lips of the 'superior race.'"

  • The New Republic, October 13, 1937, Otis Ferguson, v. 92, no. 1193, p. 276. "It isn't that this novel is bad, but that it deserves to be better. In execution it is too complex and wordily pretty, even dull–yet its conception of these simple Florida Negroes is unaffected and really beautiful. Through these chapters there has been some very shrewd picturing of Negro life in its naturally creative and unselfconscious grace; the book is absolutely free of Uncle Toms, absolutely unlimbered of the clumsy formality, defiance, and apology of a Minority cause . . . . If this isn't as grand as it should be, the breakdown comes in the conflict between the true vision and its overliterary expression. Crises of feeling are rushed over too quickly for them to catch hold and then presently we are in a tangle of lush exposition and overblown symbols… But although the spoken word is remembered, it is not passed on. Dialect is sloppy, in fact . . . And so all this conflict between the real life we want to read about and the superwordy, flabby lyric discipline we are so sick of leaves a good story where it never should have been potentially: in the gray category of neuter gender, declension indefinite."

  • Booklist, October 15, 1937, p. 71. "The life of a Negro village and of workers in the Everglades are a natural part of the warm, human story."

  • The Nation, "Luck is a Fortune," October 16, 1937, Sterling Brown, v. 145, no. 16, pp. 409–10. "Miss Hurston's forte is the recording and the creation of folk–speech. Her devotion to these people has rewarded her; Their Eyes Were Watching God is chock–full of earthy and touching poetry . . . . Though inclined to violence and not strictly conventional, her people are not naïve primitives. About human needs and frailties they have the unabashed shrewdness of the Blues . . . .But this is not the story of Miss Hurston's own people, as the foreword states, for the Negro novel is as unachievable as the Great American Novel. Living in an all–colored town, these people escape the worst pressures of class and caste."

  • Journal of Negro History, January 1938, Ethel A. Forrest, v. 23, no. 1, pp. 106–07. "Every phase of the life of the Negro in the South, like self–segregation of the Negroes themselves and the race hatred displayed by the Southern white man, has been interwoven . . ."

  • Journal of Negro Education, "The Adventures of the Brown Girl in Her Search for Life," January 1938, W. A. Hunton, v. 7, no. 1, pp 71–72. Hurston "has a healthy scorn for the Negro's endeavor to pattern his life according to white bourgeois standards."

  • Opportunity, June 1, 1938, Alain Locke. "And now Zora Neale Hurston and her magical title: Their Eyes Were Watching God. Janie's story should not be re–told; it must be read. But as always thus far with this talented writer, setting and surprising flashes of contemporary folk lore are the main point. Her gift for poetic phrase, for rare dialect, and folk humor keep her flashing on the surface of her community and her characters and from diving down deep either to the inner psychology of characterization or to sharp analysis of the social background. It is folklore fiction at its best, which we gratefully accept as an overdue replacement for so much faulty local color fiction about Negroes. But when will the Negro novelist of maturity, who knows how to tell a story convincingly–which is Miss Hurston's cradle gift, come to grips with motive fiction and social document fiction? Progressive southern fiction has already banished the legend of these entertaining pseudo–primitives whom the reading public still loves to laugh with, weap over and envy. Having gotten rid of condescension, let us now get over oversimplification!"

  • New Masses, "Recent Negro Fiction," August 5, 1940, Ralph Ellison, v. 40, no. 6, pp. 22–26. "The fiction of [Countee Cullen, Rudolph Fisher, Wallace Thurman, Jessie Fauset, and Hurston] was chiefly lyrical and for the most part unaware of the technical experimentation and direction being taken by American writing as the result of the work . . . of such writers as Joyce, Stein, Anderson, and Hemingway" which "was not addressed to Negro readers, but to a white audience that had recently 'discovered' the Negro in its quest to make spiritual adjustments to a world in transition." Their Eyes Were Watching God "retains the blight of calculated burlesque that has marred" Hurston's writing. It is "the story of a Southern Negro woman's love–life against the background of an all–Negro town into which the casual brutalities of the South seldom intrude."

Tell My Horse (1938).

  • Saturday Review, October 15, 1938, Elmer Davis, v. 18, no. 25, pp. 6–7. "Miss Zora Neale Hurston has gone afield from the scenes of her previous work . . . and turned in the inexhaustible mines of Voodoo and witchcraft in Haiti and Jamaica. Tell My Horse is a curious mixture of remembrances, travelogue, sensationalism, and anthropology. The remembrances are vivid, the travelogue tedious, the sensationalism reminiscent of Seabrook, and the anthropology a mélange of misinterpretation and exceedingly good folklore . . . . As one observer said, 'She'd find Voodoo in anybody's kitchen.' But Haiti is full of the real thing. Seabrook exposed it in sensational, wishful terms. Dr. Herskovits exposed it in its coldest mathematical terms. Miss Hurston tries both. To an extent she is successful, for Voodoo in Haiti is both warmer, possessed of more poetry, than Dr. Herskovits realized, and less wild and orgiastic than Seabrook intimated. Tell My Horse is full of fine things. Miss Hurston has an immense ability for catching the idiom of dialogue, of seeing the funniest of exaggeration, or recognizing the essence of a story. And yet, though these qualities do carry through at all times, there is a constant conflict between anthropological truth and taletelling, between the obligation she feels to give the facts honestly and the attraction of (as one of her characters says in Mules and Men) the 'big old lies we tell when we're jus' sittin' around here on the store porch doin' nothin'. That Miss Hurston loves Haiti is obvious, but there is a general feeling that the material was not completely digested."

  • The New Yorker, October 15, 1938, v. 14, no. 35, p. 7

  • Tell My Horse is "disorganized but interesting account of Miss Hurston's visit to Jamaica and Haiti." The book is a "witches' brew bubbling in the stewpot of a transplanted African culture."

  • Boston Transcript October 22, 1938, p.2.

  • Books, October 23, 1938, H. N. Smith. p.2.

  • New York Times Book Review, "Lore of Haiti," October 23, 1938, p. 12. Hurston writes about Haiti "with sympathy and level–headed balance, with no sensationalism, in a style which is vivid, sometimes lyrical, occasionally strikingly dramatic, yet simple and unstrained."

  • Booklist, November 15, 1938, Carl Carmer, v. 35, p. 96. "Zora Hurston has come back from her visit to the islands with a harvest unbelievably rich. Her book is full of keen social comment relieved with constant humor, it is packed with good stories, accounts of folk religions, songs with both music and words as all songs should be reported. There are few more beautiful tellings of a folk tale than 'God and the Pintards,' the last story in the volume."

  • New Republic, December 7, 1938, v. 97, p. 155. "She writes with sympathy and level–headed balance, with no sensationalism, in a style which is vivid, sometimes lyrical, occasionally striking dramatic, yet simple and unrestrained. She is interested in modern progress among these West Indian peoples, too, and she writes of Haiti's recent history and present problems with a sharp–edged earnestness. This is–it goes without saying–an unusual and intensely interesting book, richly packed with strange information."

  • Journal of Negro History, January 1939, Carter G. Woodson, v. 24, no. 1, pp. 116–18. Tell My Horse is "an important chapter in the conflict and fusion of cultures." It is "entertaining and at the same time one of value which scholars must take into consideration in the study of the Negro in the Western Hemisphere." Hurston is "almost sui generis."

  • Opportunity, February 1939, Alain Locke, v. 17, p. 38. Tell My Horse has "piquant thrills" and "anthropological gossip."

Moses, Man of a Mountain, 1939 (novel).

  • Saturday Review of Literature, "Old Testament Voodoo," November 11, 1939, Louis Untermeyer, v. 21, no. 3, p. 11. "In Moses, Man of a Mountain Zora Hurston has depicted the central figure of the Old Testament not so much as a questioning rebel or an illuminated lawgiver but, chiefly, as the great voodoo man of the Bible. Miss Hurston's approach is as arresting as it is fresh. . . . The fancy is whimsical and infectious; the contrasting characters of the shrewdly wise Jethro, the bitterly ambitious Aaron, the voluptuous Zipporah, and the frustrated Miriam are convincing; the setting has the charm of a continually changing panorama. But the whole is less successful than the parts, and the total effect is that of unfulfilled expectation. The prime disappointment is in the character of Moses himself. The balance between his royal Egyptian breeding and his Hebraic adaptation is insufficiently adjusted; his growth from a warrior–prince to prophet and seer is weakly motivated; the paradox of his violence and his proverbial meekness is scarcely explicated . . . . If Miss Hurston's fantasy lacks the combination of humor and poignancy . . . it has a genre quality of its own. It is not a logically projected work, but it has a racial vitality, a dramatic intensity worthy of its gifted author."

  • Boston Transcript, November 18, 1939, Philip Slomovitz, p.2. "It is a magnificent story, but it is weak in its interpretation of the ethical contributions of the prophet and in its treatment of the code of laws handed down by him. . . But Miss Hurston presents Moses as a great 'voodoo man,' which is the position given him by the Negro. Her distinctive contribution is her brilliant study of the problem of emancipation, done as perhaps only a Negro could do it . . . Miss Hurston has written a splendid study of slave emancipation. From this point of view her biography of Moses is invaluable."

  • New York Times Book Review, November 19, 1939, Percy Hutchinson, p.21. "It is impossible to say to what extent Miss Hurston has woven many legends and interpretations into one and how often she is making verbatim use of given, but, presumably, only orally extant, tradition. But the narrative becomes one of great power. It is warm with friendly personality and pulsating with homely and profound eloquence and religious fervor. The author has done an exceptionally fine piece of work far off the beaten tracks of literature. Her homespun book is literature in every best sense of the word."

  • Books, November 26, 1939, M.E. Smith. p.5.

  • New York Herald Tribune Books, "Biblical Story in Negro Rhythm," November 26, 1939, Carl Carmer, p. 5. Moses, Man of a Mountain "has become a fine Negro novel." Hurston "has made a prose tapestry that sparkles with characteristic Negro humor though it never loses dignity" and she "teaches us to realize the contribution her race is making to American expression." "In her adaptation of the Bible story Miss Hurston shows uncommon gifts as a novelist. Her characterizations are sure and her use of suspense is admirable. With the materials which her previous work in American and Haitian folk–lore has provided her she is equipped to give us novels of her race such as few of her contemporaries are capable of writing. This reviewer awaits each of her books with eagerness.

Dust Tracks on a Road, 1942 (autobiography).

  • Literary Journal, November 1, 1942, Ernestine Rose, v. 67, no. 19, p. 950. "Written with little finish, though this literary crudity may have been chosen deliberately, to heighten effect. Told dramatically, with immense verve and gusto. Will be wanted by all libraries collecting contemporary material on Negro and will be particularly valuable as an addition to meager number of Negro biographies available."

  • New Yorker, November 14, 1942, v. 18, no. 39, p. 79. Dust Tracks on a Road is "Warm, witty, imaginative, and down–to–earth by turns, this is a rich and winning book by one of our few genuine, grade A folk writers. Seems naïve here and there, but it probably isn't."

  • New York Herald Tribune Books, "From Eatonville, Fla. To Harlem: Zora Neale Hurston Has Always Had What It Takes, and Lots of It," November 22, 1942, Arna Bontemps, p. 3. Hurston "deals very simply with the more serious aspects of negro life in America–she ignores them. . . . She has done right well by herself in the kind of world she found."

  • Saturday Review, November 28, 1942, Phil Strong, v. 25, p. 6. "This book is more of a summary than the autobiography it advertises itself as being. It is a delightful one and a wise one, full of humor, color, and good sense. It is told in exactly the right manner, simply and with candor, with a seasoning– not overdone . . . .This text indicates that anyone who tries to downtread Zora Neale Hurston had better wear thick–soled boots. The race consciousness that spoils so much Negro literature is completely absent here. Miss Hurston is less impressed by her own color than most Aryan redheads. She gives one chapter to "My People"–perhaps the most sensible passage on the subject that has ever been written. She agrees with Booker T. Washington that if the stuff is in you it is likely to come out and that if it isn't it doesn't make any difference whether you are white, black, green, or cerise . . . . It is a fine, rich autobiography, and heartening to anyone, white, black, or tan."

  • The New York Times Book Review, November 29, 1942, Beatrice Sherman, p. 44. Here is a thumping story, though it has none of the horrid earmarks of the Alger–type climb . . . . her story is forthright and without frills. Its emphasis lies on her fighting spirit in the struggle to achieve the education she felt she had to have . . . . Hard work and natural talent were her mainstays. Bad luck and good came in mixed portions. But always Zora Neale Hurston felt that she was a special, a different sort of person–not in any unpleasantly cocky way, but as almost any one does who has energy and ability and wants to use them. . . . . Her whole story is live and vivid. Told in gusty language, it is full of the graphic metaphors and similes that color Negro speech at its richest, sometimes in direct quotations from folk stories . . . . her story is an encouraging and enjoyable one for any member of the human race. Any race might well be proud to have more members of the caliber and stamina of Zora Neale Hurston."

  • Publisher's Weekly, "Ainsfield Award to Hurston and Pierson," February 1943, v. 27, p. 1023. Saturday Review of Literature announced that Hurston had won the 1943 John Ainsfield Award in Racial Relations for Dust Tracks on a Road.

  • Tomorrow, February, Harold Preece. Dust Tracks on a Road is "the tragedy of a gifted mind, eaten up by an egocentrism fed on the patronizing admiration of the dominant white world."

  • New Amsterdam News, "The Watchtower," February 27, 1943, Roy Wilkins. Responds to Hurston's assertion that the Jim Crow system works: "Now is not the time for Negro writers like Zora Hurston to come out with publicity wisecracks about the South being better for the Negro than the North."

  • Journal of Negro History, July 1943, Edward W. Farrison, v. 28, no. 3, pp. 352–55. Hurston's experiences are "interestingly presented, whether fact or fancy, and there is much of both in it."

Seraph on the Suwanee., 1948 (novel)

  • Kirkus , August 15, 1948, Anne Whitmore, v. 16, p. 415. "The colorful Florida 'cracker' language holds the mood throughout, and the total effect is one of charm and readability. Recommended."

  • The New York Herald Tribune Weekly Book Review. "Turpentine and Moonshine: Love Conquers Caste Between Florida Crackers and Aristocrats," October 10, 1948, Worth Tuttle Hedden, p. 2. "Emotional, expository; meandering, unified; naïve, sophisticated; sympathetic, caustic; comic, tragic; lewd, chaste–one could go on indefinitely reiterating this novel's contradictions and still end helplessly with the adjective unique. In compatible strains in the novel mirror the complexity of the author. Miss Hurston shuttles between the sexes, the professions, and the races as if she were man and woman, scientist and creative writer, white and Negro. She is at her best as a man among men objectively portraying Jim and his workaday life with such verisimilitude . . . . With Arvay and domestic routine Miss Hurston is less successful, holding her guilt–ridden seraph too consistently in the cloudy sky of the emotions. . . . The generic life of the Florida Cracker from the cradle to the grave is so documentary in the dramatizastion of mores and language it seems incredible that one not born to the breed, even though a neighbor and an anthropologist, could be its biographer. Miss Hurston knows her Florida Negro as she knows her Florida white and she characterizes them with the same acumen, but she gives them no more attention than the plot demands . . . . Reading this astonishing novel, you wish that Miss Hurston had used the scissors and smoothed the seams."
  • The New York Times Book Review, "Freud in Turpentine," October 31, 1948, Frank G. Slaughter, p. 24. "Arvay Henson, the heroine of this long novel of the Florida sand barrens and turpentine forests, probably never heard of a seraph, but she set out to be one nevertheless. Arvay never heard of Freud, either, but she's a textbook picture of a hysterical neurotic, right to the end of the novel . . . . The author knows her people, the Florida cracker of the swamps and turpentine camps intimately, and she knows the locale. One gets the impression that she took a textbook on Freudian psychology and adapted it to her needs, perhaps with her tongue in her cheek while so doing. The result is a curious mixture of excellent background drawing against which move a group of half–human puppets."
  • Saturday Review of Literature, November 6, 1948, v. 31, p. 19.

  • Chicago Sun, November 17, 1948, H.T. Kane. p.58.

  • Christian Science Monitor, December 23, 1948, p.11. "The background is indisputably the most impressive element in this novel about Florida crackers, and next to that they way in which Miss Hurston uses the vernacular of the region, not merely in the characters' own speech but in the substance of her writing . . . . [it] is as wholesome as a vegetable garden."

  • America, January 1, 1949, Edward Hamilton. V. 80, no. 13, pp. 354–55. "The first two thirds of this novel is an incredibly good job. The author has caught the idiom of backwoods–Florida whites beautifully, and she presents the relationship between an insecure woman and her adequate and resourceful husband with fidelity and delicacy that I think excels anything that other writers have achieved." But, she "neglects motivations and assigns uncharacteristic actions to her other people." The novel "shows promise if ever a book did. The author deserves credit for portraying a man's man successfully–something that I don't recall a woman's having done before. She shows great senstitivity in tracing emotional sequences and reasoning processes, and high skill in setting scenes, utilizing regional phraseology, phrasing sprightly conversation."


The Book Review Digest. New York: H.W. Wilson Company.

Zora Neale Hurston: A Reference Guide. Ed. Adele S. Newson. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1987.

Zora Neale Hurston: Critical Perspectives Past and Present. Ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and K.A. Appiah. New York: Amistad, 1993.