Zora Neale Hurston is most often remembered for her inspiring and heartbreaking novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God—but many people don’t know that she graduated from Barnard with a degree in anthropology, and that she spent a great deal of her life and literary career exploring this intellectual pursuit.
In 1929, she began a series of research trips to the American South and the Caribbean, funded in part by Rosenwald and Guggenheim fellowships. These trips resulted in Hurston’s major anthropological works, including Tell My Horse, a first-hand account of the mysteries of voodoo. Based on her personal experiences in Haiti and Jamaica, where she participated as an initiate rather than just an observer of voodoo practices, this travelogue into an unknown world paints a vividly authentic picture of ceremonies and customs and superstitions of great cultural importance. Tell My Horse is groundbreaking in its efforts towards theorizing the African diaspora and examining the cultural continuities and differences that emerged as Blacks were scattered across the Americas and Europe as a result of the slave trade.
“Vivid, sometimes lyrical, occasionally strikingly dramatic, yet simple and unrestrained...an unusual and intensely interesting book richly packed with strange information.”—New York Times Book Review
Tell My Horse has been adopted in anthropology, religion, Caribbean and women’s studies courses at colleges and universities across the US, including Tufts University, Wesleyan University, Macalaster College, University of Colorado at Boulder, University of Wyoming, and University of Florida, among others. Most often, it is paired with Karen McCarthy Brown’s Mama Lola in ethnography studies courses. In classes examining post-colonial works, it is often taught with Ousmane Sembene’s Black Girl, Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, and Aimee Cesaire’s A Season in the Congo. Together, these works provide a vigorous examination of the damning psychological effects colonization wrought, as well as the ways that the colonized sought to subvert colonial order—voodoo being one of them.
Tell My Horse has also been adopted in courses using literature and film to explore the African Diaspora. In such a course entitled “African Diaspora Religions: Voodoo, Pop Culture, and the Culture Wars,” a Tufts professor chose to assign Hurston's work along with the films Divine Horseman, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, The Skeleton Key, and The Princess and the Frog in order to demonstrate the ways in which contemporary films have distorted scholarly and anthropological accounts of voodoo, creating and maintaining cultural and racial boundaries in the process.