BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick: Stories from the Harlem Renaissance by Zora Neale Hurston, edited by Genevieve West [in Booklist]

Armed with significant acting credits and plentiful lauds, Aunjanue Ellis makes her audiobook debut as the voice of one of the 20th-century’s most celebrated, iconic writers. In a word, her performance is stupendous. Texas Woman’s University professor Genevieve West’s definitive new collection features, for the first time, Zora Neale Hurston’s entire oeuvre of short fiction in a single volume, including eight “‘lost’ Harlem Renaissance tales.” West’s must-read introduction reveals how their recovery “provides a much-needed correction to Hurston’s legacy,” expanding her “rural” focus into “northern cities and the Great Migration.”

For the uninitiated, reading on the page could be challenging as Hurston freely shifts between regional and African American vernacular dialects, especially in writing dialog, and then back and forth to standard English. Where print readers might phonetically stumble – for example, “‘Case you allus tries tuh know mo’ than me, but Ah aint so ign’rant’” – Ellis is an effortlessly fluent cipher, comfortable and confident throughout. She’s a father aching for his son’s freedom, a desperate young man trying to right his mistakes, two young siblings plotting to shave their sleeping grandmother’s hairy chin, a no-longer young woman regretting her amorous decisions, a long-suffering wife reclaiming her agency, and many more. Seamlessly affecting accents, race, gender, age, and backgrounds on every page, Ellis proves herself an ideal guide through Hurston’s rediscovered, beckoning world.

Review: modified from “Media,” Booklist, May 15, 2020

Readers: Adult

Published: 2020


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