Every Tongue Got to Confess: Negro Folk-Tales from the Gulf States



“What treasures these are–mordantly clever and quintessentially human stories about God and the creation of the black race, the devil, preachers wily and foolish, animals, the battle between the sexes, and slaves who outsmart their masters. Invaluable tales of mischief and wisdom, spirit and hope.”–Booklist

“Imagine the situations in which these speech acts occur. Recall a front stoop, juke joint, funeral, wedding, barbershop, kitchen: the music, noise, communal energy, and release. Dream. Participate the way you do when you allow a song to transport you, all kinds of songs, from hip-hop rap to Bach to Monk, each bearing its different history of sounds and silences.”–from the Foreword by John Edgar Wideman

Storytelling is an essential element of many cultural traditions—especially those that have had to carve their identities in an unfriendly setting and struggle to hold their communities together. The African-American storytelling tradition is one of the strongest, yet this astonishing collection of African-American folk tales has lingered in archival obscurity for decades–until now.

In the late 1920s, with the support of Franz Boas of Columbia University, a circle of friends that included members of the Harlem Renaissance, and a wealthy patron named Charlotte Osgood Mason, Zora Neale Hurston set out to collect the folk tales of the rural south. Travelling from Florida to Alabama to Georgia and Louisiana, Hurston spoke with men and women, young and old, domestics and mine workers, housewives and jailbirds, collecting their tales word for word. She wanted to preserve a language that was unique, pure, and lasting. “I have tried to be as exact as possible. Keep to the exact dialect as closely as I could, having the story teller to tell it to me word for word as I write. This after it has been told to me off hand until I know it myself. But the writing down from the lips is to insure the correct dialect and wording so that I shall not let myself creep in unconsciously.”(from the Introduction by Carla Kaplan, p. xxvii)

The result of Hurston’s travels is this unique and extensive volume of nearly five hundred African-American folk tales grouped in categories ranging from God Tales to Devil Tales, from John and Massa Tales to Heaven Tales and School Tales. The stories poignantly capture the colorful, pain-filled, and sometimes magical world that surrounded them, revealing attitudes about faith, love, family, slavery, race, and community. Yet the tales are laced with humor from which no one is spared. In one story God is accused of mistaking a white man for a Negro; in another, a watermelon is so large that when it bursts it floods the river and drowns the townsfolk; and in yet another, the devil tries to make a field of cabbage like God has done, but he can’t quite get it right and ends up with a field of tobacco.

Hurston’s determination to capture the authentic language of “the Negro farthest down” (xxvi) is a vital contribution to African-American letters. These folktales were not just Zora Neale Hurston’s first love; they paved the way for generations of African-American writers, preserving a language whose poetry thrives to this day.

Boston Globe

ISBN: 9780060934545
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Pub Date: 10/2002
Format: Paperback
Weight: 0.52lbs
Size: 8.10h x 5.32w x 0.81d

Additional information

Weight 0.52 lbs
Dimensions 8.10 × 5.32 × 0.81 in