Invited Speaker: Deborah Plant on Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon
Deborah Plant, an independent African-American and Africana Studies Scholar, has dedicated her life to studying the works of Harlem Renaissance writer Zora Neale Hurston. She edited Hurston’s newly published book, Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”, a New York Times bestseller. The book was published in April 2018, almost 90 years after it was written. Hurston weaves together several years of interviews she conducted with Cudjo Lewis (Kossula), the last known survivor of the last ship, The Clotdilda, to bring enslaved Africans from Dahomey (today known as Benin) to the United States. The publication this spring received much praise, as Jean Zimmerman from NPR attests:
An introduction by literary critic Deborah Plant gives welcome context for Hurston’s journey of discovery, while an appendix showcases additional folk-tales from Kossula’s African past. Brimming with observational detail from a man whose life spanned continents and eras, the story is at times devastating, but Hurston’s success in bringing it to light is a marvel.
In her talk, Plant will recount Hurston’s painstaking endeavor to record Lewis’s story of capture, enslavement, freedom, and his subsequent life in a part of Mobile, Alabama created by survivors of the Clotilda known as Africatown. Hurston was resolute that Barracoon’s narrative should preserve his dialect of English, a position which resulted in the book’s ultimate refusal by its would-be publisher in 1931. In the decades that followed, the text was considered controversial because of the complexity it reveals in the history of the transatlantic slave trade. Dr. Plant will address what it is about our contemporary moment that has finally brought Hurston’s work– and thereby Lewis’s life story, in his own words– to light.
Barracoon will be for sale throughout the festival in the PAC lobby, and Dr. Plant will sign books following her talk.