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Review: Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick by Zora Neale Hurston

Synopsis: Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick is an outstanding collection of stories about love and migration, gender and class, racism and sexism that proudly reflect African American folk culture. Brought together for the first time in one volume, they include eight of Hurston’s “lost” Harlem stories, which were found in forgotten periodicals and archives. These stories challenge conceptions of Hurston as an author of rural fiction and include gems that flash with her biting, satiric humor, as well as more serious tales reflective of the cultural currents of Hurston’s world. All are timeless classics that enrich our understanding and appreciation of this exceptional writer’s voice and her contributions to America’s literary traditions.

Thoughts: The Harlem Renaissance was the development of the Harlem neighborhood in New York City as a black cultural mecca in the early 20th Century and the subsequent social and artistic explosion that resulted. It lasted roughly from 1910 to 1930 and is considered a golden age in African American culture. During this time the artists, writers and musicians controlled how the black experience was represented in American culture and set the stage for the civil rights movement.

Hitting A Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick is a collection of Harlem Renaissance short stories. The book starts with almost 40 pages of editor's notes, a foreword and finally an introduction. If you need to educate yourself on the author or The Harlem Renaissance you get a mini lesson in these pages. Only then are you able to begin reading the 21 short stories that "regard(ed) the language of the African American South with such affection and seriousness." (Tayari Jones, xiii)

As a reader I prefer novels more than short stories or anthologies, so this was going to be a challenge. And challenge me it did. Not only in short story format but in the writing and the subject matter as well. It's recommended to read the stories aloud, but I choose to listen to them via audio book and it greatly enhanced the experience. So if you struggle a bit I recommend trying that.

"Well, well, doan cry. Ah thought youse uh grown up man. Mean doan cry lak babies. You mustnt take it too hard bout yo ships. You gotter git uster things gitten tied up. They's lotsa folks that 'ud go 'on off too ef somethin didn' ketch 'em and hol' 'em." (Hurston, John Redding Goes To Sea)

The stories varied in subject matter and the writing style changed a few times throughout. This is explained in the aforementioned 40 pages prior to the stories themselves. I ended up rating each story separately as I read them to keep track of my thoughts and feelings and remember favorites and such.

John Redding Goes to Sea - 5 stars

The Conversion of Sam - 3 stars

A Bit of Our Harlem - 2 stars

Drenched in Light - 3 stars

Spunk - 2 stars

Magnolia Flower - 4 stars

Black Death - 3 stars

The Bone of Contention - 2 stars

Muttsy - 3 stars

Sweat - 3 stars

Under the Bridge - 5 stars

"Possum or Pig? - 5 stars

The Eatonville Anthology - 1 star

Book of Harlem - 2 stars

The Book of Harlem - 2 stars

The Back Room - 4 stars

Monkey Junk - 1 star

The Country in the Woman - 3 stars

The Guilded Six-Bits - 4 stars

She Rock - 1 star

The Fire and the Cloud - 3 stars

The first story, John Redding Goes to Sea was probably my favorite in the entire collection because it was such a powerful story with a twist I didn't see coming. Several of the latter stories (The Eatonville Anthology, Book of Harlem, The Book of Harlem, Monkey Junk, and She Rock) felt Shakespearean in nature. They made me feel like I was reading lines of a play, so they were my least favorites. Some felt too short and I am sure there's still a bunch that I probably didn't understand as the author intended.

In closing I want to acknowledge I am white, so I encourage you to seek out reviews by Black readers and reviewers. I ran across a few on Youtube (Brianca Jay and Black Book Stacks). I am sure there are many more.

Rating: ★★★