Zora Neale Hurston is best known for her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, but she was also a prolific writer of anthropological texts, such as Mules and Men and Tell My Horse. A new Zora Neale Hurston book is coming in 2018, and it will be a great introduction to her anthropological writing for new readers. HarperCollins will publish the new book, titled Barracoon, in May.
Barracoon is the story of Cudjo Lewis, the last person known to have survived the transatlantic slave trade. The book evolved out of Hurston's interviews with "the Black community of Plateau, Alabama, which was founded by Cudjo Lewis and other ex-slaves from the ship that brought them to America." Based on the author's conversations with the nonagenarian Lewis in the 1920s and '30s, the book covers his life, from his childhood in Africa through the last days of the Civil War. The title refers to the barracks used to hold prisoners in anticipation of the Middle Passage. Hurston completed Barracoon before her death in 1960.
According to the Encyclopedia of Alabama, Lewis was a young man living in what is now Benin when he was captured and sold into slavery. He was in his mid-90s when he passed away in 1935, and, thanks to Hurston's 1928 short film, is the only known African-born former slave to have his image preserved on a movie reel, in a short film that you can watch below.
Hurston isn't the only writer to recently have a book published posthumously. The announced re-release of James Baldwin's 1976 children's book, Little Man, Little Man, received a lot of media attention last week, as did Mark Twain's never-before-seen book for children, The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine, which was released in September 2017. Additionally, although Prize for American Fiction winner Denis Johnson passed away in May of this year, his fans have an upcoming short-story collection, The Largesse of the Sea Maiden, to look forward to reading in 2018.
HarperCollins is already taking pre-orders for Barracoon on its own website and on Amazon, with a hardcover price set at $25.99. Publisher's copy says the book "featur[es] Cudjo’s unique vernacular, and [is] written from Hurston’s perspective with the compassion and singular style that have made her one of the preeminent American authors of the twentieth-century." At a time when hate crimes are on the rise and the United States' ugly legacy of white supremacy is on prominent display, Barracoon is a book we need now, more than ever.