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Zora: A Misfit in Her Own Time

Although her reputation as a performer who placated white audiences with racy storys in order to financially support herself proved damaging in terms of the scholarly perception of her work, the timing of her career in terms of African American literature also shaded her into obscurity. At a time when Naturalists like Richard Wright ruled the presses Hurston's poetic tales and novels dealt not with issues  inherent to the black race but instead with issues "so universal as to be taken for granted"( art and such 144). As she wrote in "How it Feels to be Colored Me" Hurston did "not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are all hurt about it." Hurston was "not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes"(How 153).

Contradicting Richard Wright's idea that the Negro writer had no less responsibility than to "create values by which his race is to struggle, live and die" (A Blue-print for Negro Writers) Hurston wrote about characters who laugh and cry and work and love essentially who were above all universally human. As she wrote in her autobiography:"From what I had read and heard, Negroes were supposed to write about the Race problem. I was and am thoroughly disinterested in that subject. My interest lies in what makes a man or a woman do such-and-do, regardless of his color"(Dust Tracks 171).

When Hurston's epic text Their Eyes Were Watching God was published it was into an atmosphere dominated by aesthetics congruent to Wrights and in which there was no place for a mere love-story. With the publication of this text Hurston was critically assaulted and once again labeled as a performer.Failing to see the inherent gender and racial politics of the text, Wright viewed Hurston's text as a minstrel show:

"Miss Hurston voluntarily continues in the traditon which was forced upon the Negro in the theatre, 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 safe and narrow orbit in which America likes to see the Negro live: between laughter and tears" (Wright)

Wright's review was echoed by the upper-eschelon of a group that Hurston termed the Niggerati and it was not until the seventies that the book received its much deserved recognition as an American Classic.