Podcast #29: Zora Neale Hurston

Episode 29 presents a giant of the Harlem Renaissance: writer, anthropologist and zombie finder Zora Neale Hurston!

Zora may be best known for her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, but her love of adventure and willingness to re-write her own biography are sure to delight fans old and new.

Writer and scholar Fatin Abbas tells Zora’s tale from the stage in ACUD, and Dead Ladies Show co-founder Katy Derbyshire joins podcast producer and presenter Susan Stone to put things in motion.

Also available on Soundcloud, Spotify, Apple PodcastsRadioPublic, Pocket Casts, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, and Acast. And you can find the transcript here.

Show notes:

You can read more about Zora’s remarkable hometown Eatonville here.

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Photograph of Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, & Jessie Fauset, 1927

Enjoy this rare fieldwork footage Zora shot, which a kind Youtuber has paired with recordings of her voice!

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Abache and Cudjoe Kazoola Lewis were among the last group of Africans forcibly transported to the United States aboard the slave ship Clotilde. Zora told Cudjoe’s life story in Barracoon, published only very recently.
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Zora’s photograph of “zombie” Felicia Felix-Mentor

The books Fatin recommends are these: Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston by Valerie Boyd, and Zora’s own Dust Tracks on a Road. You can listen to more of her ethnographic recordings (and her singing!) here, and here’s that Lithub story about her role in the first Black baby doll.

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Our theme music is “Little Lily Swing” by Tri-Tachyon.

Thanks for listening! We’ll be back with a new episode in February. And here’s a link to our Patreon, in case you’d like to help fund transcripts.

Support for the Dead Ladies Show podcast comes from the Berliner Senat.

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Dead Ladies Show #24

There’s just one week to go until our next show here in Berlin, our last in 2019! So roll up, roll up for show number 24, in which we present three accomplished ladies who battled prejudice to lead self-determined lives: a hugely influential writer and anthropologist, an incredible dancer and comedian, and a spy who came out as a woman — more on them below. Introduced to you by the amazing author and filmmaker FATIN ABBAS, prestigious journalist and writer KATJA KULLMANN, and your beloved co-host KATY DERBYSHIRE. All held together at the seams by your other beloved co-host, FLORIAN DUIJSENS. Come on up to the ACUD Studio for an evening of entertainment, inspiration, and fabulous females.

As always, the show is presented in a messy mixture of English and German, and once again generously supported by the Berliner Senat. Join us Tuesday 19 November at the ACUD Studio, doors open 7:30 – come on time to get a good seat and a good drink! €5 or €3 reduced entry.

ZORA NEALE HURSTON was a writer and anthropologist. Although her grandparents were born into slavery, she grew up in the all-black town of Eatonville, Florida, where her father was mayor. She moved to New York to study anthropology and became part of the 1920s Harlem Renaissance movement of African-American arts. Alongside researching cultural practices in the Caribbean and the American South, she wrote folklore collections and novels, plays and musical revues, essays, satirical articles, and non-fiction. Not all of it was published during her lifetime; her work was rediscovered in the 1970s, prompted by Alice Walker, who also found an unmarked grave in Fort Pierce, Florida, and reclaimed it as hers. Hurston’s writing about the African-American experience has been an inspiration to several generations of authors.

NORMA MILLER, nicknamed the Queen of Swing, was an African-American dancer, choreographer, and comedian. Born in Harlem, she began dancing at five and went on to make a career of it before she turned eighteen. “Black girls didn’t have many outlets,” she explained, and she was still teaching dance at the age of 98. In between, she danced in Hollywood movies – most notably the bizarre 1941 comedy Hellzapoppin’ with Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers – toured with her own troupe, and went into comedy when her knees started knocking. She produced and starred in shows, performing in Miami and Las Vegas with the likes of Cab Calloway and Sammy Davis Jr. In her later years, Norma Miller played a major role in the swing revival from the 1980s until her death early in 2019.

Charles Geneviève Louise Auguste André Timothée d’Éon de Beaumont, known as the CHEVALIÈRE D’ÉON, lived for 49 years as a man and spent the last 33 years of her life as a woman. She claimed to have been assigned female at birth in 1728 Burgundy and raised as a boy, but her elderly roommate got quite a shock when she found her dead body had male genitalia. Having served as a spy to the French king, the chevalière went into the military and then diplomacy, continuing her espionage for Louis XV from London. When the king died, d’Éon negotiated a return to France and legal recognition as a woman, then reluctantly assumed women’s clothing, made for her by Marie Antoinette’s personal dressmaker. She earned a meagre living after the French Revolution by performing in English fencing tournaments, wrote an unreliable autobiography and developed her own theology of virtuous womanhood, and died at the impressive age of 82.