A Great Essay: “How It Feels To Be Colored Me”

220px-Hurston-Zora-Neale-LOCOne of my favorite essays is Zora Neale Hurston’s 1928 personal reflection “How It Feels To Be Colored Me.”

It’s rightly honored as a classic for many reasons, but one thing about it that doesn’t get enough attention is its humor. Hurston has so much confidence and clarity that she’s empowered to laugh at aspects of life that depress others. Parts of this serious social criticism essay are really quite funny.

That clarity and confidence in her outlook on life present a powerful challenge to the prevailing attitudes today, and offer a very positive role model for all of us. But I digress; this isn’t a political post.

As literature, her writing is just superb. Consider the eleventh paragraph in the essay (the linked version is numbered). It crafts an extended metaphor that viscerally builds a sense of dizzying, pulse-pounding abandon. The style perfectly matches the topic.

But then check out the contrast between that sprawling rave of a paragraph with the short punch of paragraph twelve. The stylistic difference there highlights the difference between her reaction to music and her friend’s reaction. It’s glorious.

There are plenty of other reasons to love this essay, besides those three. Just to give one more great thing about Hurston, though, is this: if you merely remove one little letter “r” from her last name, it becomes even better !  :)

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