Mar 19 2010

ZORA: First “cool” writer

Who was the coolest of the cool, long before it was cool?  In 1933 an unknown writer by the name of Zora Neale Hurston became the very first documented writer to use the world “cool” to imply hip-ness. 

In her short story The Gilded Six Bits written for Story Magazine (1933), the conversation between two poor but devoted lovers turns to the local town big-shot who not only has a mouth full of gold teeth but also money in the bank: “What make it so cool, he got money ‘cumulated.”  Then in 1934 in Jonah’s Gourd Vine, Zora keeps her “cool” going as she describes a man as not only a good guitar picker but also good looking (“What make it so cool, he de’ bes’ lookin’).  Then again in 1935, as scholar Robert Farris Thompson notes in my film JUMP AT THE SUN, a man flirting with his girlfriend dishes up some cool when he tells her he’ll be making her breakfast in the morning: “Whut make it so cool, ah’d fix you some, and set it on de back of de cook-stove so you could git it when yo’ wake up.”

As for that Beat Generation, it wasn’t until 1948 that “cool” was next found in a New Yorker magazine quote about jazz.


Feb 13 2010

ZORA broadcast on PBS’ American Masters Monday/Feb. 22

Zora with her pearl-handled pistolsYou missed it last time?  There have been two PBS broadcasts of JUMP AT THE SUN, first in 2008 and most recently Feb. 22, 2010.  So if you want to see the critically acclaimed ZORA NEALE HURSTON: JUMP AT THE SUN, your best option now is to buy your own copy here or through Amazon.

That pistol-packing mama, Zora Neale Hurston, had a rich life, challenging Jim Crow laws in the South as she collected folklore and the cultural matrix of Black America through her film camera, her brownie camera, and “sound machines” provided by the Library of Congress.  This photo is courtesy of Howard University Moorland-Spingarn Research Center.

Selected press clipsThe Miami Herald: “Shimmering”; Detroit Free-Press: “A big story, beautifully told”; New York Times: “Does a fine job outlining Hurston’s life and near-miraculous achievements”; NY Newsday: “An exhilarating portrait of an exhilarating woman”; Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: “Irresistible”.