Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Writer’s Best Friend

Where do you get your ideas? A writer hears that question more than any other. Maybe the person to ask is the writer's best childhood friend.

ZORA AND ME by Victoria Bond & T. R. Simon, Candlewick Press, 2010

This middle grade novel is a fictionalized account of the childhood of author Zora Neale Hurston. A debut for both writers, Bond and Simon, this is the only project endorsed by the Zora Neale Hurston Trust that was not written by Hurston herself.

Hurston’s best known work, Their Eyes Were Watching God, is considered the most widely read and highly acclaimed novel in African American literature. Praised as a tribute to the strength of black women, it raises the question in the mind of the reader, “Where did she get her ideas?”

That, in turn, takes us back to Hurston’s childhood in Eatonville, Florida, an all black township incorporated by 27 African-American men soon after the Emancipation Proclamation. Hurston and family moved there when she was a toddler and it’s in this community that her writer’s heart was nourished.

Eatonville is also the setting for this story about solid friendships, the difference between lies and storytelling, and how life and death and pretending are tangled up together in the world of the adolescent.

Zora’s best friend, Carrie, is the narrator. Her own insights and observations lend a surprising depth to this well-told story. Sometimes a sentence is so profound, it takes several readings to explore it, let it sink in, and wonder if the authors planted it there for parents or kids. Their Eyes Were Watching God is on high school reading lists. If I’d read Zora and Me first, I’d have a better understanding of the adult book. (I'd also be younger.)

Sadly, Hurston’s writing career didn’t bring her fortune. She received little for her work and died destitute. Her burial was in an unmarked grave. When Alice Walker was a young writer, she found the grave and made sure that a monument was placed to honor the life and achievements of this brilliant author.

Bond and Simon included an annotated bibliography of Hurston’s works as well as their own sources. A short biography of Hurston and a timeline of important events in her life are helpful references. more

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