There Is No Agony Like Bearing an Untold Story Inside You

Zora Neale Hurston? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Brilliant writers are often impelled to share a tale. Keeping an untold story inside can cause agony. The prominent author Zora Neale Hurston said something like this. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: In 1942 Zora Neale Hurston published “Dust Tracks on a Road: An Autobiography”. She discussed her landmark novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God” which she composed “under internal pressure in seven weeks”. Boldface added to excepts by QI: 1

If writers were too wise, perhaps no books would be written at all. It might be better to ask yourself “Why?” afterwards than before. Anyway, the force from somewhere in Space which commands you to write in the first place, gives you no choice. You take up the pen when you are told, and write what is commanded. There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you. You have all heard of the Spartan youth with the fox under his cloak.

Hurston’s reference to a fox corresponded to an ancient episode illustrating the culture of Sparta which was recounted within “Plutarch’s Moralia”: 2

. . . when the boys with him had stolen a young fox alive, and given it to him to keep, and those who had lost the fox came in search for it, the boy happened to have slipped the fox under his garment. The beast, however, became savage and ate through his side to the vitals . . .

Sadly, the boy died. This metaphorical framework suggests that one should release the fox, i.e., one should share a tale which one holds inside. This action will allow one to live fully.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading There Is No Agony Like Bearing an Untold Story Inside You

Notes:

  1. 1942, Dust Tracks on a Road: An Autobiography by Zora Neale Hurston, Chapter 11: Books and Things, Quote Page 220 and 221, J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; facsimile reprinted in 1969 by Arno Press, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1931, Plutarch’s Moralia, Volume 3 of 14, English Translation by Frank Cole Babbitt (Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut), Series: The Loeb Classical Library, Sayings of the Spartans, Start Page 393, Quote Page 405 and 407, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York. (Verified with scans)

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.

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

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)

No Matter How Far a Person Can Go the Horizon Is Still Way Beyond You

Zora Neale Hurston? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Futurists use the horizon metaphorically to help explain the limits of prediction. As one approaches the horizon, more of the world becomes visible, but there are always vast regions that remain invisible because they are beyond the horizon. I think the Harlem Renaissance author Zora Neale Hurston employed the ever receding horizon figuratively in one of her novels. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: Zora Neale Hurston’s 1937 work “Their Eyes Were Watching God” included the following discussion of the character Nanny. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

But Nanny belonged to that other kind that loved to deal in scraps. Here Nanny had taken the biggest thing God ever made, the horizon—for no matter how far a person can go the horizon is still way beyond you—and pinched it in to such a little bit of a thing that she could tie it about her granddaughter’s neck tight enough to choke her.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading No Matter How Far a Person Can Go the Horizon Is Still Way Beyond You

Notes:

  1. 1978 (Copyright 1937), Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Novel by Zora Neale Hurston, Chapter 9, Quote Page 138, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, Illinois. (Verified with scans)

If You Haven’t Got It, You Can’t Show It. If You Have Got It, You Can’t Hide It

Zora Neale Hurston? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A quotation about success has been attributed to the prominent American author and pioneering folklorist Zora Neale Hurston. Here are two versions:

Those who don’t got it, can’t show it. Those who got it, can’t hide it
Those that don’t got it, can’t show it. Those that got it, can’t hide it.

I have been unable to find this statement in her writings. Are these her words? If she did use this expression I would like to see the larger context.

Quote Investigator: In 1942 Zora Neale Hurston published an autobiography titled “Dust Tracks on a Road”, and it included the quotation; however, the wording differed from the two versions given above:

If you haven’t got it, you can’t show it. If you have got it, you can’t hide it.

Here is an excerpt showing that Hurston was discussing the future success of blacks in the United States and the world. In this passage she emphasized the perspective of the individual. Boldface has been added: 1

It would be against all nature for all the Negroes to be either at the bottom, top, or in between. It has never happened with anybody else, so why with us? No, we will go where the internal drive carries us like everybody else. It is up to the individual. If you haven’t got it, you can’t show it. If you have got it, you can’t hide it. That is one of the strongest laws God ever made.

Here are additional selected citations.

Continue reading If You Haven’t Got It, You Can’t Show It. If You Have Got It, You Can’t Hide It

Notes:

  1. 1969, Dust Tracks On a Road, Chapter XII: My People! My People!, Start Page 223, Quote Page 245, Arno Press, New York. (Arno Press published in 1969 a reproduction of the 1942 first edition published by J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia) (Verified with scans of Arno Press edition)