Sharony Green

Nov 1, 2023

The Chase and Ruins

Zora Neale Hurston in Honduras

Johns Hopkins University Press 2023

Zora Neale Hurston, an anthropologist and writer best known for her classic novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, led a complicated life often marked by tragedy and contradictions. When both she and her writing fell out of favor after the Harlem Renaissance, she struggled not only to regain an audience for her novels but also to simply make ends meet. In The Chase and Ruins: Zora Neale Hurston in Honduras (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2023), Sharony Green uncovers an understudied but important period of Hurston's life: her stay in Honduras in the late 1940s.

On the eve of an awful accusation that nearly led to her suicide, Hurston fled to Honduras in search of a lost Mayan ruin. During her yearlong trip south of the US border, she appears to have never found the ruin she was chasing. But by escaping the Jim Crow south to Honduras, she avoided racist violence in the United States while still embracing her privilege—and power—as a US citizen in postwar Central America. While in Honduras, Hurston wrote Seraph on the Suwanee, her final novel and her only book to feature white characters, in an attempt to appeal to Hollywood's growing appetite for "crackerphilia" (stories about poor white folks) and to finally secure herself some financial stability. In a letter to her editor, Hurston wrote that in Honduras, she may not have found the Mayan ruin she was looking for, but she finally found herself.

Hurston's experience in Honduras has much to teach us about Black women's lives and the thorny politics of postwar America as well as America's long and complicated entanglement with Central America. In an attempt to find historical meaning in an extraordinary woman's conceptions of herself in a changing world, Green unearths letters, diaries, literary writings, research reports, and other archival materials. The Chase and Ruins encourages us to reckon with and reimagine Hurston's fascinating life in all of its complexity and contradictions.

Award-winning writer Sharony Green is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Alabama. She is the author of Remember Me to Miss Louisa: Hidden Black-White Intimacies in Antebellum America. 

Reighan Gillam is an Associate Professor in the Department of Latin American, Latino, and Caribbean Studies at Dartmouth College. Her research examines the ways in which Afro-Brazilian media producers foment anti-racist visual politics through their image creation. She is the author of Visualizing Black Lives: Ownership and Control in Afro-Brazilian Media (University of Illinois Press).

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Reighan Gillam

Reighan Gillam is an Associate Professor in the Department of Latin American, Latino, and Caribbean Studies at Dartmouth College. Her research examines the ways in which Afro-Brazilian media producers foment anti-racist visual politics through their image creations. She is the author of Visualizing Black Lives: Ownership and Control in Afro-Brazilian Media (University of Illinois Press).
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