Historian and writer Eric Jackson asked me to read a poem or selection from the Harlem Renaissance for his Black History Month presentation at the Town of Selma Parks & Rec’s Soul Food Fest on Feb. 24 from 11 am – 2 pm at the Harrison Alumni Center, 605 W Noble Street in Selma, North Carolina.
“I’m white, Eric,” I balked.
“That doesn’t matter,” he responded.
Well, it matters to me. While I can appreciate Zora Neale Hurston, I can’t imagine reading her words aloud and doing them justice, or the words of contemporary Black women authors inspired by Hurston, like Dr. Sonia Sanchez, and doing them justice. You can see Sanchez reading her powerful “Poem for Some Women,” an emotionally wrenching piece about a woman who leaves her seven-year-old child at a crack house, on YouTube by clicking on the poem title.
What I can do is encourage you and others to read and appreciate both Hurston and Sanchez, and be inspired by them as I am.
Hurston wrote four novels and more than 50 published short stories, plays and essays. She is best known for her 1937 novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God.
Here are just some of Hurston’s words:
“Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.”
“Here was peace. She pulled in her horizon like a great fish-net. Pulled it from around the waist of the world and draped it over her shoulder. So much of life in its meshes! She called in her soul to come and see.”
“I have been in Sorrow’s kitchen and licked out all the pots. Then I have stood on the peaky mountain wrapped in rainbows, with a harp and sword in my hands.”
Hurston was born in Alabama, but every January the town where most of her writing takes place, Eatonville, Florida, holds an annual Zora! Festival. This past month, Dr. Sonia Sanchez was a presenter at the festival.
Sanchez is a living poet and activist who was also born in Alabama, but moved to Harlem in New York City. The link between Hurston and Sanchez occurred when Sanchez was rejected for employment because of the color of her skin, and ended up walking over to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. At the time, Sanchez said she didn’t even know there was a library just for Black authors. The librarian set three books in front of her and one of them was Ms. Hurston’s novel. Sanchez went on to become one of the foremost leaders of the Black Studies movement.
Here are some of Sanchez’s words:
You can’t have relationships with other people until you give birth to yourself.
I shall become, I shall become a collector of me. And put meat on my soul.
I write to tell the truth about the black condition as I see it. Therefore, I write to offer a black woman’s view of the world.
All poets, all writers are political. They either maintain the status quo, or they say, ‘Something’s wrong, let’s change it for the better.’
The most fundamental truth to be told in any art form, as far as Blacks are concerned, is that America is killing us.
Want to explore the words of other Black writers? A great online source is Mahogany Books, which recently opened a brick-and-mortar bookstore in the Anacostia neighborhood in Washington, DC. – a former book desert. Mahogany Books sells books written for, by, or about people of the African Diaspora.
If you’re in Selma, North Carolina, join writer and historian Eric Jackson, speakers Antwon Windbee and Judge Addie Rawls, and entertainment by Angel George at the Town of Selma Parks & Rec’s Soul Food Fest, Saturday, February 24 from 11 am to 2 pm at the Harrison Alumni Center, 605 W Noble Street in Selma, North Carolina. I’ll be there!