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Zora Neale Hurston's visual and textual portrait of Middle Passage survivor Oluale Kossola/Cudjo Lewis

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Hannah Durkin



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND).


This article examines African American folklorist Zora Neale Hurston’s book-length biography and film of the last known Middle Passage survivor, Oluale Kossola/Cudjo Lewis, to explore her cinematic and literary engagement with slavery and to recover Lewis as a co-author of both documents. Hurston’s literary project, ‘Barracoon’, in which she situated herself merely as Kossola’s amanuensis and foregrounded the ‘inexpressible violence’ and ‘horror’ of his experience, represented an unusually frank twentieth-century record of enslavement and post-slavery life. Such work pre-dated and lacked the patronising tone of much of the WPA Slave Narrative Collection (1936–1938), whose investigators were mainly white and whose subjects’ accounts were often reconstructed loosely from field notes. Moreover, Hurston’s footage of Lewis circumvented literary mediation altogether to provide an Atlantic slavery survivor with an unprecedented visual outlet for self-expression.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Durkin HK

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Slavery & Abolition

Year: 2017

Volume: 38

Issue: 3

Pages: 601-619

Print publication date: 01/08/2017

Online publication date: 20/01/2017

Acceptance date: 26/12/2016

Date deposited: 31/01/2017

ISSN (print): 0144-039X

ISSN (electronic): 1743-9523

Publisher: Routledge


DOI: 10.1080/0144039X.2017.1279416


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