On the Road with Hurston and Hughes

April 12, 2019 | 1

How did Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston become friends? For Longreads, Yuval Taylor tells the story of a fortuitous road trip, on which Hurston drove Hughes from Mobile to Tuskegee in her Nash coupe. “The road trip provided the perfect opportunity for Zora and Langston to compare notes from their Southern travels, exchange ideas, and explore, along the back roads, the characteristics of African American culture that informed their greatest work,” writes Taylor. “They had both kept meticulous records of songs, sayings, turns of phrase; they related their impressions of conjure wisdom, including the names of potions and powders; they delighted in the cultural riches of their Southern black brethren.” And thus, one of the great literary friendships was born.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

is a writer and illustrator. She is the author of two illustrated books, Last Night's Reading (Penguin Books, 2015) and Sanpaku (Archaia 2018).

One comment:

  1. Both Hughes and Hurston traded shamelessly in the popular Negro-denigrating stereotypes of the era, a cynical practise that resulted in the fact that they were promoted by the condescending white literary establishment then… and still are now.

    As I commented on a story by Hughes first published by Esquire, in 1936, and re-published, uncritically (with relish, even) in 2019:

    “The main characters in this story are low-grade morons. Does that make them ‘authentic’? Reminding me of the famous set piece in Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” in which two very Black gentleman have an argument about whether the Esso (brand name filling station) dinosaur logo is an actual living thing (kept out behind the filling station) and from ‘Egypt’. Ho ho, ha ha (those quaint Negroes)… but who cares? Hurston is an icon. Hughes is an icon. Did either produce hilarious literary vignettes of moronic Whites? I somehow doubt it, as each knew which side of the day-old toast the dirty butter (or pomade) was on. Who was in charge of the Literary Filter that this, and so many other Jim Crow Fantasias, pumped through at such volume that it all filled the trough of the ‘canon’ of Black Lit? Imagine ‘Beloved Classics of Jewish Lit’ commissioned, edited, published in Germany and taught in German Universities the same year this story was published (1936). Such a canon couldn’t be any more grotesque.

    “Sure, I know, Hughes and Hurston and every other member of the Black Kapo Class very famously advertised their ‘love of the Negro Race’ and worked to ‘uplift’ same. But those public sentiments merely satisfied the conditions of their Kapo contracts with the Dominant Culture; they were terribly divided people (I think I just heard Michael Jackson grab his crotch).”

    Well, again, there were always very few routes, to mainstream acceptance, open to Artists of (too much) Color, which didn’t involve wearing a conceptual banana-skirt… I get that. But where did all the self-aware push-back, from Black critics of the ’60s and ’70s, go? Kicked back out to the edge of the plantation during the ’80s?

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