Folk modernism: Zora Neale Hurston's gestural drama

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Zora Neale Hurston's desire to dramatize the folklore she collected in the late 1920s is well known. While some have argued that her anthropological training under Franz Boas conflicted with her creative impulses, Folk Modernism: Hurston's Gestural Drama takes the view that her innovative work in the theatre is a productive synthesis of the modernist impulse toward rupture and rhythmic form, of an international interest in the 1930s in the cultural resonances of "gesture," and of Hurston's own dynamic notion of "gesture [in] place of words," first articulated in 1928. For Hurston, gesture is not supplementary to language but rather the inverse: language is a kind of gesture. In Cold Keener (1930) and Woofing (1931), she develops a drama in which words and movements transmit a culture's characteristic rhythms - in this case, the culture of rural black Southerners in their everyday labour and leisure. Spunk (1935) and Polk County (1944), aiming for white audience acceptance, conventionalize gestural drama.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)112-134
Number of pages23
JournalModern Drama
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Literature and Literary Theory


  • Hurston's drama
  • folk modernism
  • gesture
  • gestures of labor and leisure


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