Keep Up with the Essay One Paragraph at a Time

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January 28, 2022

 

from “How It Feels To Be Colored Me”

by Zora Neale Hurston

 

“Howdy-do-well-I-thank-you-where-you-goin’?”—Zora Neale Hurston

 

Zora Neale Hurston was an American author, anthropologist, and filmmaker. In her writing she portrayed racial struggles in the American South and published research on hoodoo. She is best known for her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. She also wrote essays and published “How It Feels To Be Colored Me” in the magazine World Tomorrow in 1928. You can read the entire essay here.

Paragraph of the Week

 

But I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all. I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negro-hood who hold that nature somehow has given them a low-down dirty deal and whose feelings are all hurt about it. Even in the helter-skelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less. No, I do not weep at the world—I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.

–Zora Neale Hurston

Commentary

 

When she was a girl living in the all-black town of Eatonville, Florida, Zora Neale Hurston would greet cars passing through from her front porch by saying “Howdy-do-well-I-thank-you-where-you-goin’?” and dancing “ the parse-me-la.” Slavery was only sixty years in the past, but for her the “terrible struggle” for freedom said “‘On the line!’ The Reconstruction said ‘Get set!’; and the generation before said ‘Go!’” She refused “to look behind and weep.” When she is in a sea of white faces she never loses sight of her identity: “I am a dark rock surged upon, overswept by a creamy sea. I am surged upon and overswept, but through it all, I remain myself. When covered by the waters, I am; and the ebb but reveals me again.” When she dances she is “in the jungle and living in the jungle way. My face is painted red and yellow, and my body is painted blue. My pulse is throbbing like a war drum. I want to slaughter something—give pain, give death to what, I do not know.” She is “the cosmic Zora,” and belongs to no race or time, “the eternal feminine with its string of beads.” She takes an oyster knife to life. Discrimination against her does not make her angry. It “astonishes” her. “How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company!” she writes. “It’s beyond me.”—THE

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Announcements

 

Announcement: The Beloved Republic

 

I am pleased to announce that my fourth collection of personal essays called The Beloved Republic won the Wandering Aengus Press nonfiction award and will be published early in 2023. Thanks to the Press for this honor.

Steven Harvey

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Folly Beach 

Folly Beach, my newest book, is a personal essay about easing fears of mortality and loss through creativity, certainly a message for our frightening times. It never loses sight of the inevitable losses that life brings, but doesn't let loss have the last word.  In the face of the grim, Folly Beach holds up the human capacity to create as our sufficient joy.

—THE

In a world of loss, creativity is the best revenge.

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You can learn more about the recent work of Steven Harvey at his author's page here.

THE Mission

We at The Humble Essayist are in love with the paragraph, that lowliest of literary techniques.  A sentence stands out as a noble thing: a complete thought.  But what is a paragraph?  And what, in particular, is a good one?  You know it when you read it--that is our article of faith.  So on Friday of each week, beginning on Independence Day 2014, the very day 169 years earlier that Henry Thoreau moved to Walden Pond, we will select a single paragraph from an essay or a reflective memoir and print it here along with a paragraph of commentary.   We will choose paragraphs that are surprising, beautifully written, and, above all, thematic--illuminating the author's comment on life.  Each paragraph of the week is, in short, a concise review of the writer's work.  We hope that this page will introduce you to many exciting authors and their ideas.

 

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