Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Mae West: Zora Neale Hurston

Key elements of MAE WEST's persona were rooted in black traditions.
• • Mae West herself said that her earliest influence was the black entertainer Bert Williams. She popularized the sexually charged black dance the shimmy. Some believed she had invented it but she didn't; she learned it in a Chicago nightspot.
• • Mae West tinted photographs to make herself look like her black maid. And chronicler Zora Neale Hurston in a 1934 essay, ''Characteristics of Negro Expression,'' said that Mae West ''had much more flavor of the turpentine quarters than she did of the white bawd.''
• • Speaking of Zora Neale Hurston's 1934 essay "Characteristics of Negro Expression"
this was perhaps the first attempt to define the jook joint. Of course, Mae West set "Diamond Lil" in a Bowery saloon that was not too far distant from a jook — — i.e., the "turpentine quarters."
• • In January it's an ideal time to look back at the sharp-eyed writer Zora Neale Hurston.
• • Born in Alabama, Zora Neale Hurston [7 January 1891 28 January 1960] was a folklorist and an author during the time of the Harlem Renaissance; her best known work was the novel Their Eyes Were Watching God [1937]. In 2002, scholars listed Zora Neale Hurston among the 100 Greatest African-Americans.
• • Huston's essay appeared in a volume that was privately printed in Great Britain at the expense of Nancy Cunard, its editor. Negro: An Anthology was rejected by American publishers during the Prohibition Era. Wishart, a London imprint, released only 1,000 copies in 1934. This formidable door-stop of an anthology brought together 250 contributions by 150 black scribes and ran to 855 pages. Heiress Nancy Cunard [1896 1965] was a visionary and, fortunately, her small press run was eventually reprinted in the USA in wider release. If you have the book, read Zora Neale Huston's entries on behalf of her birthday: January 7th.
• • Come up and see Mae every day online:
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• • Photo: • • Mae West • • none • •
Mae West.

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