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reviews Our regular review section features some of the best new books, films, and sound recordings in southern studies. From time to time, you 'Il also find reviews of important new museum exhibitions and public history sites, and retrospectives on classic works that continue to shape our understanding of the region and its people. Our aim is to explore the rich diversity of southern life and the methods and approaches of those who study it. Please write us to share your suggestions, or to add your name to our reviewer file. The Power of the Porch The Storyteller's Craft in Zora Neale Hurston, Gloria Naylor, and Randall Kenan By Trudier Harris Mercer University Lamar Memorial Lectures, No. 39 University of Georgia Press, 1996 xiv, 152 pp. Cloth, $22.95 Reviewed by Margaret D. Bauer, assistant professor of southern literature in the English Department at East Carolina University. She recendy assumed editorship of the North Carolina Uterary Review. Her publications include essays on Hurston, William Faulkner, Alice Walker, Ellen Gilchrist, Kate Chopin, Ellen Glasgow, Margaret Mitchell, and Mark Twain. In her preface to this collection ofher 1995 Lamar Memorial Lectures, Harris explains that, upon first being invited to give the lectures, she knew immediately that she wanted to speak on the "orality" of Zora Neale Hurston's work. Her selection of Hurston's Mules andMen points to the value of Harris's volume of essays : The Power ofthe Porch provides detailed explorations of previously neglected works. Though there is a body ofcriticism on Mules andMen, it is dwarfed by the available commentary on TheirEyes Were Watching God. Harris's other chapters examine more recent works that have not yet received much critical analysis (Naylor 's Mama Day) or any critical analysis at all (Kenan's "Clarence and the Dead"). Readers ofNaylor and Kenan will therefore be pleased to see these works receiving Harris's scrutiny. Harris examines Hurston's many roles in Mules andMen: compiler, frame narrator , audience, and character. To assemble this collection of folktales from the 68 citizens of her native Eatonville, Florida, Hurston had to win her former neighbors ' trust, sometimes by convincing them that she was one ofthem and that she had not been changed by city life and education, at other times by playing the part, often flirtatiously, of helpless, even potentially victimized female. Always, Harris points out, Hurston was as aware of her intended audience as she was of the people who provided her subject matter. Thus she sometimes feigned ignorance to elicit explanations of customs or tales in the same vernacular in which they were introduced. Harris points out the inconsistency ofHurston's dual roles of insider and naïf and suggests that the ability to handle this contradiction was one of her great talents. Equally with the storytellers she recorded, Hurston was a "Performing Persona" (the title of Harris's section on Mules andMen). Also representative of the author's role-playing talents, according to Harris, is the way that Hurston used notions oftraditional femininity and her own sexuality to coerce men to talk: she baked for them, flirted with them, or allowed them to "rescue" her. Thus, although Harris asks readers to be wary of applying contemporary feminist ideology to a work published in 1935 (which would result in criticism of the sexism in many of the stories and of the author herself for not commenting on it), her suggestion of Hurston's masking provides something of an answer to this paradox. Harris's discussion of the various roles that Hurston played in Mules andMen also illuminates the author's achievements with similarly complex narration in TheirEyes Were Watching God, which begins withJanie telling her story to Phoebe, but then slips into a third-person narrative voice that at times speaks in standard English and at other times in dialect. Thus Harris provides implicit support for the argument that Hurston's narration is purposeful rather than inconsistent or merely sloppy. In the last part of her discussion oí Mules and Men, Harris turns to Hurston's voodoo tales, providing a smooth transition to the central focus of her subsequent lectures on the supernatural elements in Mama Day and "Clarence and the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 68-70
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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