Speak, So You Can Speak Again by Lucy Neale Hurston and the Estate of Zora Neale Hurston

The perfect gift for fans of Zora Neale Hurston, this multi-media book collects realistic reproductions of letters, notes, holiday cards, songs, playbills, stories published in magazines, and a CD with an interview and songs, all in one book put together by Lucy Anne Hurston, niece of the legend, and the Estate of Zora Neale Hurston. Each page has photos of Zora Neale Hurston, her family, her friends, and many I hadn’t seen before. Because I have two Hurstons in this review, I’ll refer to them by first name.

If you’re a fan, the text of Speak, So You Can Speak Again isn’t new. Lucy Anne uses quotes from Zora’s autobiography (Dust Tracks on a Road) and Robert E. Hemenway’s biography of Zora. It’s not so much the framework that Lucy Anne provides that is of interest, but rather the accompanying photos and materials, which wouldn’t make sense without the (necessary!) context. A photo realistic copy of a letter Zora wrote may be tucked away in a secretive pocket. At times, I was reminded of a pop-up book; nothing pops up, per se, but there are items to pull out, touch, and examine. My favorite was a piece of crispy burned-looking paper that stands in for part of one of Zora’s stories, which was put in a fire when she was evicted out of her residence and clearing men threw her belongings away. That that piece of story was saved, and that Lucy Anne and Zora’s estate made a replica that you’d swear had actual pen handwriting and burnt edges, is even more amazing.

The CD included has the famous interview with Zora during which she explains how she came to meet a real-life zombie in Haiti, always a good listen, and the story of how she got her first novel published. Zora’s voice and rhythm while telling a story match her style in her novels and autobiography, reassuring readers that Zora captures the way people talk and think as if words were butterflies and she had a net — and that Zora herself is a walking, talking story.

Most of the CD are songs Zora sings. She is not a trained singer, and you can hear when she’s off key, but these are work songs and celebration songs, etc., so her unpolished voice fits with the intended audience of the songs. Because they are very old recordings, it wasn’t always possible for me to understand all the lyrics, though other readers may experience the songs differently.

Lucy Anne Hurston and the Estate of Zora Neale Hurston have collaborated to come up with a treasure trove of realistic materials for readers to peruse and a CD that brings Zora’s voice back from the dead so that she may speak again.

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