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Volume 3, Number 2, Winter 2005 Monica L. Miller, Guest Editor
Jumpin' at the Sun: Reassessing the
Life and Work of Zora Neale Hurston
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About the Contributors

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The Mark of Zora: Reading between the Lines of Legend and Legacy

Ann duCille

Some years ago I started writing a novel, a murder mystery set at a mythical university in Brookline, Massachusetts. In the early versions of the novel, the female protagonist was an assistant professor of English whose claim to tenure was a well-received biography of Hurston entitled The Mark of Zora. The title of my imaginary character's imaginary biography of the "real-life" Zora Neale Hurston indulged my fondness for wordplay in its riff of the Douglas Fairbanks and Tyronne Power films of the 1920s and 1940s, The Mark of Zorro. But all punning aside, taking Zora's mark—assessing her influence on American letters and African American culture—has been no small task. Indeed, even though we have been in hot pursuit of her for decades, Hurston has proven to be even more elusive than the masked bandit of similar name.

The hot pursuit and the story of Hurston's journey from obscurity to academic, popular, and postage-stamp notoriety make a reassessment of her life and work both timely and essential. I have lingered long over the question of what new insights I might bring to this reassessment, particularly since I am not, as many other contributors are, a Hurston scholar. I finally surrendered the idea of saying something new and decided instead to revisit an issue that has been of interest to me for some time—a phenomenon that I have elsewhere labeled "Hurstonism": the conspicuous consumption of Zora Neale Hurston as the initiator of the African American women's literary tradition.[1] I have long been fascinated by the relationship between the arrival of black women and black feminism in the academy in the late 1960s and early 1970s and the reclamation and rise of Hurston as an intellectual subject and a feminist icon. Where would Hurston and black feminist studies be without each other, and how would Hurston wear the feminist mantle?

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Monica L. Miller, Guest Editor - ©2005.