Zora Neale Hurston quoted by Morris Dickstein in her book Dancing in the dark: A cultural history of the Great Depression and excerpted by The Root
“There is something about poverty that smells like death,” Zora Neale Hurston wrote in her 1942 autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road. “Dead dreams dropping off the heart like leaves in a dry season and rotting around the feet; impulses smothered too long in the fetid air of underground caves. The soul lives in a sickly air. People can be slave-ships in shoes.”
Maybe it’s the rain dropping at the feet of the city and slightly rotten smell of the remains of summer leaving New York this morning or maybe it’s the lingering effects of studying the Transatlantic Slave Trade with high school students this past year, but that line people can be slave-ships in shoes just won’t leave me.
Dickstein continues, placing Neale Hurston’s evocations in their historical context, linking her undeniably soul-wrenching writings to the plight and social condition of those suffering the depression of the 1930s. In this excerpt the focus shifts to the Steinbacks of the 1930s and then more fully to Richard Wright. Dickstein has an elaborative ambition in this book, weaving the narratives of history, the author’s life and purpose, the books’ characters’ lives and purposes, and the resulting convergence of those strands. I’m excited to get my hands on the rest of this book.