Date of Submission

Spring 2018

Academic Programs and Concentrations


Project Advisor 1

Peter L'Official

Abstract/Artist's Statement

Originally serialized in The Pittsburgh Courier, Zora Neale Hurston wrote five short stories documenting life in Harlem circa 1930. Exclusively focusing on the energies and structures of the urbane discernable through the rhythmic, predictable motions of the mundane, “The Book of Harlem,” “Monkey Junk,” “The Back Room,” “She Rock,” and “The Country in the Woman” operate initially to observe and catalogue Harlem’s spaces, while satirizing and elevating the movements of daily life. Long lost but rediscovered in 2010, these urban short stories reappear amid the modern revival of her literary legacy to defy the typical conceptions of Hurston as a fiction writer. Understood as a writer of the rural, the connections drawn between the ethnographies and the architectures of urban forms challenge popular opinion. The apparent deviation from her rural tendencies to a fixation on the urban neither detracts from the stories’ value nor disqualifies them from Hurston’s anthropological literary enterprises. Tracing the echoes of her Southern ethnographies in the Courier stories, this paper posits these stories as part of her anthropological efforts, serving as her ethnography of Harlem. Applying ink to verbal practices immortalized oral traditions of folklore with tangible documentation of various milieus unparalleled in their spatial awareness. Playing off the idea of building and the built, Hurston uses the cityscape’s literal construction to engage with matters of constructed self-identities. Hurston selects a space, yet manages to portray a place by characterizing the composition of the city in an aesthetically minded contribution to the cultural imaginary of Harlem.

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On-Campus only

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