I Love Myself – When I am Laughing … and then again when I am looking Mean and Impressive by Zora Neale Hurston

This is a collection of work from the novelist Zora Neale Hurston. It contains fourteen remarkable selections from a writer who produced novels, essays and letters from 1920 – 1950. It is an anthology of works that provides a wonderful insight into American social and cultural history as well as offering an incredible mental picture of the woman – Hurston. The book is edited by Alice Walker.In 2007 the Guardian newspaper asked women to recommend a book that had made an impact on them as women. Zadie Smith wrote passionately about Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and how, having read this book, her life and writing had been enriched.

At the time and having read Smith’s review, I felt at last here was recognition for a black woman writer who Alice Walker describes as “a woman ahead of her time”, and here was I with an anthology of her work bought in 1985 and whom I had quoted from frequently – I now felt like a woman ahead of my time

The book is an extraordinary journey through the title. Hurston writes about black American ‘folk art’ that is questioning and without apology. In the words of Alice Walker “the language of the characters, that ‘dialect’ that has been laughed at, denied or ignored, or ‘improved’ so that white folks ……can understand it is simply beautiful”.

Hurston’s writing is mean and impressive and she challenges the reader to think and go back and think again – about the meaning of her words. You find yourself asking: is she challenging the ‘politics’ of the day in Crazy for This Democracy, or is she an artist of words, challenging assumptions about ethnicity and culture in What White Publishers Won’t Print?

I have dipped into this book over the years and never cease to be amazed and thankful for a language that is rich in meaning and colour, never dull and always inspirational and always able to provide a quote or a text that has meaning for today’s readers. I do not think this anthology is now in print. However, other works of Hurston are and readers are to be encouraged to go and seek them out.

I have used Hurston throughout my teaching in social work. More recently I called upon her again as a way of explaining what the new post-qualifying social work education is all about and that one of the aims of the award was to provide PQ candidates with an opportunity to “think critically about their own practice in a wider context” (GSCC, 2005).

This is what Hurston had to say about herself, “I couldn’t see it for wearing it. It was only when I was off in college, away from my native surroundings, that I could see myself like somebody else and stand off and look at my garment”.

Again she captured the art of critical reflection in a way that I couldn’t.

Hurston, Z. N. (1979) I Love Myself: When I am Laughing.. And then again when I am looking Mean and Impressive Feminist Press, New York

First Edition, seventh printing.
ISBN 0912670665

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