How Can Any Deny Themselves the Pleasure of My Company! It’s Beyond Me

Zora Neale Hurston? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Author Zora Neale Hurston was a prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance. Her robust self-confidence provided resilience when facing prejudice. Apparently, she wrote or said the following:

How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company!

Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1928 Zora Neale Hurston published the essay “How It Feels to Be Colored Me” in the journal “The World Tomorrow”. The piece was reprinted in the “The Best American Essays of the Century” in 2000. Here is an excerpt: 1

I have no separate feeling about being an American citizen and colored. I am merely a fragment of the Great Soul that surges within the boundaries. My country, right or wrong.

Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company! It’s beyond me.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1986 literary critic Harold Bloom published a volume about Hurston, and the introduction included the following. The ellipses are in the text of the book: 2

Her famous remark in response to Carl Van Vechten’s photographs is truly the epigraph to her life and work: “I love myself when I am laughing. And then again when I am looking mean and impressive.” Walt Whitman would have delighted in that as in her assertion: “When I set my hat at a certain angle and saunter down Seventh Avenue . . . the cosmic Zora emerges. . . . How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.”

In 1992 the quotation appeared in “The Beacon Book of Quotations by Women” compiled by Rosalie Maggio. The reference cited a reprint of the quotation within a work edited by Alice Walker: 3

Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.

Zora Neale Hurston, “How It Feels to Be Colored Me” (1928), in Alice Walker, ed., Love Myself When I Am Laughing . . . And Then Again When I Am Looking Mean and Impressive (1979)

In 1993 the quotation was ascribed to Hurston within the compilation
“Untamed Tongues: Wild Words from Wild Women”. 4

In conclusion, Zora Neale Hurston should receive credit for the words she wrote in 1928.

Notes:

  1. 2000, The Best American Essays of the Century, Edited by Joyce Carol Oates and Robert Atwan, Essay: How It Feels to Be Colored Me by Zora Neale Hurston, (First published in The World Tomorrow, May 1928), Start Page 114, Quote Page 117, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1986, Zora Neale Hurston, Edited by Harold Bloom (Sterling Professor of the Humanities, Yale University), Chapter: Introduction, Quote Page 4, Chelsea House Publishers, New York. (Verified with scans)
  3. 1992 Copyright, The Beacon Book of Quotations by Women, Compiled by Rosalie Maggio, Topic: Discrimination, Quote Page 85, Beacon Press, Boston, Massachusetts. (Verified with scans)
  4. 1993, Untamed Tongues: Wild Words from Wild Women by Autumn Stephens, Quote Page 144, Conari Press, Berkeley, California. (Verified with scans)