New York Magazine

THE LAST SLAVE

IN 1931, ZORA NEALE HURSTON SOUGHT TO PUBLISH AN IMPORTANT PIECE OF AMERICAN HISTORY—THE STORY OF CUDJO LEWIS, THE ONLY LIVING SURVIVOR OF THE FINAL SLAVE SHIP TO LAND IN AMERICA. INSTEAD, THAT ORAL HISTORY LANGUISHED IN A VAULT. UNTIL NOW.
LEWIS OUTSIDE HIS HOME IN ALABAMA IN THE 1930s.

THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD is required reading in high schools and colleges and cited as a formative influence by Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou. It’s been canonized by Harold Bloom—even credited for inspiring the tableau in Lemonade where Beyoncé and a clutch of other women regally occupy a wooden porch—but Zora Neale Hurston’s classic novel was eviscerated by critics when it was published in 1937. The hater-in-chief was no less than Richard Wright, who recoiled as much at the book’s depiction of lush female sexuality and (supposedly) apolitical themes as its use of black dialect, “the minstrel technique that makes the ‘white folks’

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