Dust Tracks on a Road, an autobiography by Zora Neale Hurston. Originally published in 1942.
This book, written at the height of Hurston’s notoriety, is an intriguing read. Because of my personal connections to some of the historical notes Hurston lays at the beginning of her story, I read it with expectations that went unmet. It was a very detached autobiography which should not have been surprising as it was very much in keeping with Hurston’s “cards close to the vest” persona.
The foreword of the edition I read was written by Maya Angelou. Much as in the foreword by Toni Morrison of the edition I read of Their Eyes were Watching God, there was much angst. Hurston never fails to simultaneously fascinate and confound modern day black feminists. Ground breaking, politically incorrect, and seemingly born without a victim-hood bone in her body, the forewords of her books read eerily similar no matter which of the black feminists writers is entrusted to the task.
Hurston was a rebel from childhood, often aided and abetted by her mother who admired her spirit. Her father worried for the troubles she would encounter in the world if she continued to run headlong wherever it suited her fancy. She however fully expected to run into trouble, looking forward to the lessons the trouble would teach as she journeyed through life.
It never occurred to Hurston to be afraid of white people, having befriended and hung out near the lake with an old man from the neighboring town who took a liking to Zora precisely because she had so much spunk. He took her fishing and taught her life lessons. Later two white women were fascinated with Zora’s reading ability when they came to Eatonville to take a tour of the negro school there. Again, Zora found herself a beneficiary as a result of who she was and what she could do. It didn’t take long for Zora to conclude that while racism was a real thing, it wasn’t something she needed to fret about with regard to her own life so long as she was honest, hard working, unafraid, and generally excellent.
With the exception of her general disregard for religion (she was the master of her fate after all), Zora Neale Hurston again and again defies the thinking of the very modern black feminists who revere her and her contributions. After the of her early years, much of the book is an exposition of Hurston’s philosophies on life and their effect on her more than any detailed information about her personal experiences.
One thing is crystal clear as Hurston tells her scrappy story, and that is that she figured out early in life that rallying for her race at the expense of her dreams and economic survival wasn’t for her. More than that, she thought that “our interests are too varied” to expect any kind of monolithic unity anyway. Some interesting quotes follow.
On being self-aware:
“I did not know then, as I know now, that people are prone to build a statue of the kind of person it pleases them to be. And few people want to be forced to ask themselves, ‘What if there is no me like my statue?'”
On not taking yourself too seriously:
“My sense of humor will always stand in the way of my seeing myself, my family, my race or my nation as the whole intent of the universe.”
“Make the attempt if you want to, but you will find that trying to go through life without friendship, is like milking a bear to get cream for your morning coffee. It is a whole lot of trouble, and then not worth much after you get it.”