Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Eatonville writer Zora Neale Hurston's book will finally be published after 90 years

Posted By on Wed, May 2, 2018 at 6:15 AM

Almost a century after publishers rejected her manuscript on one of the last known survivors of the Atlantic slave trade, Eatonville writer Zora Neale Hurston is finally getting her book released next week.

Six years before her acclaimed novel Their Eyes Were Watching God was published, Hurston tried to get Barracoon produced in 1931. The nonfiction work focused on the late author's interview with Cudjo Lewis, a formerly enslaved man whose original name was Oluale Kossola.

Born in the West African country of Benin, Kossola was 19 when he was captured and taken prisoner by a neighboring kingdom. He was held for weeks with other captives in a barracoon (slave pen) until Kossola and more than 100 other people were sold and put on the slave ship Clotilda. The vessel, captained by Mobile ship builder William Foster, took about 45 days to arrive in Alabama in 1860, according to the Encyclopedia of Alabama

The international slave trade had been illegal in the United States for more than 50 years, so the owners of Clotilda smuggled in the enslaved people at night. Foster later torched the boat to hide evidence of the last recorded slave ship in the country. Kossola worked enslaved for five years before finally regaining his freedom in 1865. Later, he and other former slaves who were brought on Clotilda established Africatown, also known as Plateau. Here, Hurston met Kossola in 1927 and recorded his account.

When Hurston tried to get Barracoon released in 1931, publishers rejected it – one even offered to buy the book if Hurston rewrote it "in language" rather than the black dialect used, according to the New York Times. The Harlem Renaissance writer refused.

"Like many contemporary blacks in elite cultural spaces, Zora was caught in respectability politics: between battling white perceptions of an inferior blackness and resisting cultural norms that make whiteness supreme," writes columnist Natalie Hopkinson for HuffPost.

The manuscript went unpublished. Despite releasing several novels and working as an anthropologist and playwright, Hurston died poor in Fort Pierce in 1960 and was buried in an unmarked grave. Her achievements were brought out of obscurity posthumously by other African American writers, including most notably Alice Walker.

Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" will be available May 8. Read an excerpt from the book on Vulture here.

Get our top picks for the best events in Orlando every Thursday morning. Sign up for our weekly Events newsletter.

Tags: , ,

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Orlando Weekly. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Orlando Weekly, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Orlando Weekly works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Central Florida.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Orlando’s true free press free.


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Read the Digital Print Issue

April 14, 2021

View more issues


© 2021 Orlando Weekly

Website powered by Foundation