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Dust Tracks on a Road: An Autobiography by Zora Neale Hurston

By Rusty | Books | September 22, 2009 |

By Rusty | Books | September 22, 2009 |

If I ruled the country, one of the first things that I’d turn my attention on would be the public education system. I’m proud to say that I spent all but two years in public school, and in two very different school districts. One of the biggest overhauls I’d look into would be expanding what’s taught in English programs. Books written by women and/or minorities were scarce in my educational experience and the ones that were featured tended to be repeated. I read Sylvia Plath poems for at least two classes in high school, and she was the only modern female poet we read. It took me until I was in college to read any Zora Neale Hurston and even then I picked up Their Eyes Were Watching God on my own rather than for a class. I picked up her autobiography, Dust Tracks On A Road the same way.

Hurston has led a unique life to say the least, she grew up in a town that was founded and governed by blacks in the late 19th century. She talks about how this had an enormous effect on her expectations of what she could accomplish, pointing out that the proof that black Americans could achieve something was literally all around her. She was an imaginative child, who invented tales of doomed love using characters created with kitchen cast offs and the like. The reasonably comfortable childhood that Hurston had been living ends when she is nine years old and her mother dies.

From there, Hurston’s life is a patchwork of boarding schools, maid jobs, and anything she can do to earn enough money to keep herself going. She is eventually able to go back to school, and begins to find her way to becoming the celebrated writer she’s known as today. The way she tells her story is occasionally disjointed, with forays into the things she learned while doing anthropological work folded into the narrative of her own life. It makes for a fascinating portrait of a wonderful writer and incredibly intelligent woman, but it also might be alienating to younger readers who may have a difficult time contextualizing these vignettes into black American folklore, or Bahamian songwriting traditions. I found them wonderfully interesting.

Dust Tracks On A Road is a rewarding, if not an easy read. Hurston’s famed ability to effectively communicate rural black culture is on display, as is her own telling of the life she led as a successful, educated black writer in New York City in the pre-Civil Rights era. Occasionally authors of autobiographies lack the perspective needed to write effectively about their own lives. Luckily for us, Zora Neale Hurston is not one of those writers.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of Genny (now just Rusty)’s review, check her blog, Rusty’s Ventures.

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.