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Zora Neale Hurston

Collected Plays

Zora Neale Hurston and Edited by Jean Lee Cole and Charles Mitchell

Publication Year: 2008

Though she died penniless and forgotten, Zora Neale Hurston is now recognized as a major figure in African American literature. Best known for her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, she also published numerous short stories and essays, three other novels, a memoir, and two books on black folklore. Even avid readers of Hurston's prose, however, may be surprised to know that she was also a serious and ambitious playwright throughout her career. Although several of her plays were produced during her lifetime-and some to public acclaim-they have languished in obscurity for years. Even now, most critics and historians gloss over these texts, treating them as supplementary material for understanding her novels. Yet, Hurston's dramatic works stand on their own merits and independently of her fiction.Now, eleven of these forgotten dramatic writings are being published together for the first time in this carefully edited and annotated volume. Filled with lively characters, vibrant images of rural and city life, biblical and folk tales, voodoo, and, most importantly, the blues, readers will discover a "real Negro theater" that embraces all the richness of black life.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Series: Multi-Ethnic Literatures of the Americas


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

Our original intentions for this project were very modest: we simply wanted to provide usable scripts for several short plays, whose typescripts were available online at the Library of Congress, for a dramatic reading performed in March 2005 at Loyola College in Baltimore, Maryland. This reading, which...


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pp. xi-xiii

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Introduction: Zora Neale Hurston—A Theatrical Life

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pp. xv-xxxi

Zora Neale Hurston: Collected Plays marks the first time that the extant dramatic writings of Zora Neale Hurston have ever been collected in a single volume. This feat would have been impossible if not for the work of librarians at the Library of Congress. In 1997, they found over a dozen plays and sketches stored in various locations throughout their vast holdings and rescued them from...

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A Note on the Text

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pp. xxxiii-xxxiv

The dates attributed to the plays come from one or more of the following sources, listed in order of primacy: (1) date of production; (2) biographical sources; (3) copyright date. Readers should be aware that plays for which we only have copyright dates may have been written significantly earlier. When possible, we have used the earliest published edition as the copy-text, as the typed manuscripts contain numerous typographical...

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Meet the Mamma (1925)

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pp. 1-31

Meet the Mamma is perhaps most significant for the contrast it provides to Hurston’s later works. In Baltimore, Hurston lived several blocks from the city’s theatrical district, and opportunities to see variety entertainment were plentiful in Washington and New York. This, her first dramatic work, imitates...

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Color Struck (1926)

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pp. 33-50

Color Struck, along with the following play, Spears, constitute Hurston’s calling card to the Harlem theater world. The two plays, along with the short stories “Spunk” and “Black Death,” all won prizes in the first Opportunity literary contest organized by Charles S. Johnson in 1925. Judged by a panel of white and black writers...

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Spears (1926)

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pp. 51-62

Spears, a short two-act play, won an honorable mention in the first Opportunity literary contest organized by Charles S. Johnson in 1925, and was later published in X-Ray, the magazine of the Zeta Phi Beta sorority, in December 1926. It was never produced. The play is notable for the contrast it provides...

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The First One (1927)

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pp. 63-74

This play retells the biblical story of Ham, which was frequently used by slaveowners in the antebellum period to explain the origin of the black race as a people destined to servitude. In Genesis 9, Noah, with his sons Ham, Shem, and Japheth, and their respective wives, escape the great flood. One night Noah becomes drunk; Ham sees...

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Cold Keener (1930)

Cold Keener was copyrighted in October 1930, just months before the failure of Fast and Furious and during the period when Hurston was writing sketches for the eventually aborted Jungle Scandals. The sketches collected here almost certainly comprise the material she had written for Jungle Scandals. Whether Hurston was to be the...

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Filling Station

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pp. 77-84

Setting: A filling station upstage center. It stretches nearly across the stage. The road passes before and through it. There is a line down the center of the stage from the center of the filling station to the footlights that says on the left side, “Alabama State Line,” and on the right, “Georgia State...

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Cock Robin

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pp. 85-89

Setting: Straight across the stage, upstage, are (1) a cheap restaurant with a crude sign on which is written “The Grease Spot”; (2) a cheap pool hall called “The Eight Rock”;10 [and] (3) a dingy rooming house, “The Shimmy Shack.” All have practical doors and windows. All are two-story...

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pp. 90-93

Setting: Heaven, showing the Tree of Life and the intersection of Hallelujah Avenue and Amen Street. The pearly gates stretch across the stage like a curtain. There is a peep-hole in the door. A flight of golden stairs ascends from the orchestra pit in midstage. Just inside the gates, John...

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Mr. Frog

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pp. 94-99

Setting: All action is seen from actors’ viewpoint. Full stage. Water is seen through the cypress and magnolia and pine trees. Spanish moss hangs from the trees. There is a large hollow log at left near the entrance. A long-leaf pine is downstage center. A huge toadstool is near footlights at extreme...

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Lenox Avenue

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pp. 100-104

Scene: Lenox Avenue at 135th Street. Setting: Backdrop showing intersection and houses. The autos are on a scenic band22 and keep whizzing past. Action: When the curtain rises (children’s game insert)23 there is a traffic officer at the intersection. A very effeminate young man enters left with a large cretonne sewing bag on his wrist. Officer glares at him a...

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The House That Jack Built

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pp. 105-110

Setting: A platform at left. Two practical windows in backdrop with a wall blackboard in between them. Two rows of benches. Action: At the rise the pupils are all seated and attentive. The teacher is an aging man. They are large children and the girls are pretty. Everyone is neat and tidy but De Otis. He is seated in the last row next to the...

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pp. 111-115

Scene: Seventh Avenue at 135th Street. Just a street scene on backdrop. [Action:] All action from actors’ right and left. At the rise, several persons are passing up and down avenue. One man [Good Black] is standing by himself as if waiting for someone. It is in broad daylight. A man...

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Railroad Camp

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pp. 116-122

Setting: Palmettos, oak trees hung with Spanish moss on the backdrop. In the foreground a length of railroad track on an embankment. A hand car stands at right end of track. Action: Ten men are spiking rails with sledge hammers. The boss is squatting up the line and signaling corrections. The water boy...

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pp. 123-129

Scene: Interior of main room in the jook. There is a dilapidated piano in one corner. A small rough table against the wall in the upstage corner. There are a few chairs scattered around against the wall. Action: When the curtain goes up, Nunkie is at the piano playing and singing. There are three couples on the floor slow-dragging and...

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De Turkey and De Law (1930; with Langston Hughes)

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pp. 131-190

De Turkey and De Law is essentially a dramatization of Hurston’s short story, “The Bone of Contention” (unpublished during Hurston’s lifetime), which centers on an altercation between Dave Carter, “the local Nimrod,” and Jim Weston, the town bully. In the story, Dave shoots a turkey, which Jim then claims as his own. As they...

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The Sermon in the Valley (1931; with Rowena Woodham Jelliffe)

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pp. 191-200

The figure of the folk preacher stands tall in Hurston’s work. Her own father was an itinerant Baptist minister, and growing up in Eatonville, as we see in De Turkey and De Law, she was surrounded by churchgoers of both the Baptist and Methodist faiths. The language of the folk sermon, exhortatory, eloquent, and...

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Four Plays from Fast and Furious (1931)

The following plays, Woofing, Lawing and Jawing, Forty Yards, and Poker!, all appeared in some form in an all-black review entitled Fast and Furious. The show premiered on September 15, 1931, at the New Yorker Theatre and ran for seven performances—until the box office ran dry. Hurston was not...

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pp. 202-209

Setting: Porch and sidewalk, etc. Action: Through the open window of one of the shacks a woman [Bertha] is discovered ironing. A man [Good Black] is sitting on the floor of the porch asleep. She hums a bar or two, then comes to the window...

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Lawing and Jawing

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pp. 210-214

Scene: Judge Dunfumy’s court. Setting: Usual court-room arrangement, except that there is a large red arrow pointing offstage left, marked “To Jail.” Action: At rise everybody is in place except the Judge. Suddenly the Clerk looks offstage right and motions for everybody to rise. Enter the Judge. He wears a black cap and gown and has his gavel in his hand. The two policemen walk behind him holding up his gown. He mounts...

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Forty Yards

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pp. 215-216

Scene: The ball park. Setting: The park with grandstands on either side and upstage. Action: At rise, the grandstands are full, the cheer leaders are violently gyrating to whip up the mob. The Lincoln colors fly from the right. The Howard [colors] from the left. Both have cheer leaders. First is heard the Lincoln mob singing “Didn’t He Ramble...

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pp. 217-219

Scene: A shabby front room in a shotgun house. A door covered by dingy portieres upstage center. Small panel window in side wall left. Plain center table with chairs drawn up about it. Gaudy calendars on wall. Battered piano against wall right. Kerosene lamp with reflector against wall on either side of room. [Action:] At rise of curtain Nunkie...

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The Fiery Chariot (1932)

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pp. 221-226

Hurston included this slight bit of comedy, which she described as an “Original Negro Folk Tale,” in From Sun to Sun, the revised version of The Great Day (1932), the concert program that received widespread critical notice. It received a single performance at the New School for Social Research in New York on Tuesday...

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Spunk (1935)

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pp. 227-268

Although it was never produced, Spunk is arguably Hurston’s most crafted play, next to Polk County (1944). It also functions as a bridge between the earliest successes of Hurston’s career and her culminating achievement, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937). The play began as the short story of the same title, which won Hurston...

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Polk County (1944; with Dorothy Waring)

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pp. 269-362

Hurston spent several months at the Everglades Cypress Lumber Company in Loughman, Florida, in 1928, on a trip financed by Charlotte Osgood Mason. While there, she collected material that formed the basis of this play: the characters Big Sweet and Dicey Long were closely based on women she met in the lumber camp, and Leafy Lee is a fictionalized version of Hurston herself. Even before...

Appendix Programs from The Great Day (1932), From Sun to Sun (1932), and All de Live Long Day (1934)

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pp. 363-371

Explanatory Notes

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pp. 373-386


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pp. 387-389

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About the Editors

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pp. 390

Jean Lee Cole is an associate professor of English at Loyola College in Maryland. She is the author of The Literary Voices of Winnifred Eaton: Redefining Ethnicity and Authenticity and the coeditor, with Maureen...

E-ISBN-13: 9780813545127
E-ISBN-10: 0813545129
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813542911
Print-ISBN-10: 081354291X

Page Count: 424
Illustrations: 1 photograph
Publication Year: 2008

Series Title: Multi-Ethnic Literatures of the Americas