Every Tongue Got to Confess is an extensive volume of African American folklore that Zora Neale Hurston collected on her travels through the Gulf States in the late 1920s.
The bittersweet and often hilarious tales -- which range from longer narratives about God, the Devil, white folk, and mistaken identity to witty one-liners -- reveal attitudes about faith, love, family, slavery, race, and community. Together, this collection of nearly 500 folktales weaves a vibrant tapestry that celebrates African American life in the rural South and represents a major part of Zora Neale Hurston's literary legacy.
Although Hurston is better known for her novels, particularly Their Eyes Were Watching God, she might have been prouder of her anthropological field work. In 1927, with the support of Franz Boas, the dean of American anthropologists, Hurston traveled the Deep South collecting stories from black laborers, farmers, craftsmen and idlers. These tales featured a cast of characters made famous in Joel Chandler Harris's bowdlerized Uncle Remusversions, including John (related, no doubt, to High John the Conqueror), Brer Fox and various slaves. But for Hurston these stories were more than entertainments; they represented a utopia created to offset the sometimes unbearable pressures of disenfranchisement: "Brer Fox, Brer Deer, Brer 'Gator, Brer Dawg, Brer Rabbit, Ole Massa and his wife were walking the earth like natural men way back in the days when God himself was on the ground and men could talk with him." Hurston's notes, which somehow got lost, were recently rediscovered in someone else's papers at the Smithsonian. Divided into 15 categories ("Woman Tales," "Neatest Trick Tales," etc.), the stories as she jotted them down range from mere jokes of a few paragraphs to three-page episodes. Many are set "in slavery time," with "massa" portrayed as an often-gulled, but always potentially punitive, presence. There are a variety of "how come" and trickster stories, written in dialect. Acting the part of the good anthropologist, Hurston is scrupulously impersonal, and, as a result, the tales bear few traces of her inimitable voice, unlike Tell My Horse, her classic study of Haitian voodoo. Though this may limit the book's appeal among general readers, it is a boon for Hurston scholars and may, as Kaplan says in her introduction, establish Hurston's importance as an African-American folklorist.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Funny, tragic, enlightening
ZNH is a hero of mine, and this book showcases some of her most amazing fieldwork. The introduction and notes (which are linked) are top notch. But it's the stories themselves that grip you, with their fusion of the modern and the mythic, protest and fatalism. She was a master at capturing dialect, and the voices of the tellers are distinct, individual, and sometimes poetic. If you've ever wondered what Uncle Remus wasn't telling the white folks (or what Joel Chandler Harris wasn't recording), this book is for you.