Zora Neale Hurston: A Biography
Posted on: May 13, 2021
Soon after arriving in New York City from Washington, D.C., in 1925, Zora Neale Hurston submitted her short story “Spunk” and her play Color Struck to a literary contest held by the National Urban League’s Opportunity Magazine. Both pieces won second prize in their categories, and “Spunk” was published in Opportunity’s June 1925 issue. The short story was republished in The New Negro the following year.
Ten years later, Hurston filed a copyright with the United States Copyright Office for a dramatic adaptation of “Spunk” under the same title. Like most of Hurston’s plays, Spunk was never published. This copyright and the copyrights for her other nine plays were not renewed within the 28 years required by the law at the time, and thus they expired. The plays entered the public domain but were lost, remaining unknown to the public for the better part of the 20th century.
In the early 1980s, the United States Copyright Office transferred to the Library of Congress their collection of Hurston’s plays, including eight full texts and records of copyrights for two others. Spunk was not one of the texts included. Scholars began reviewing the Library of Congress collection in the mid-1990s, at which point Pearlie Peters of Rider University noticed the copyright registration for Spunk and recommended a search for the play.
Notably, writer and director George C. Wolfe also penned a theatrical adaptation of three Hurston stories titled Spunk: Three Tales by Zora Neale Hurston that was first produced at Crossroads Theatre Company in New Brunswick, New Jersey in 1989 and then at the Public Theatre in New York City in 1991. The discovery of Hurston’s own copyright from 1935 confirmed that she had adapted her short story into a play herself during her lifetime. The full text of the play was ultimately located and added to the Library of Congress’s collection in 1997. ♦
Read more: Timeline of Black American Theatre
Read more: Literary Ancestry Essay Series
Read more: Recommended Plays and Further Reading
|“About This Collection.” Zora Neale Hurston Plays at the Library of Congress. Library of Congress.
Boyd, Valerie. “About Zora Neale Hurston.” The Official Website of Zora Neale Hurston. The Zora Neale Hurston Trust.
Hurston, Zora Neale. Spunk. Registered for copyright June, 1935. Manuscript/Mixed Material. Retrieved from the Library of Congress.
Hurston, Zora Neale. “Spunk.” Zora Neale Hurston: Novels and Stories. Library of America, 1995. Story of the Week Presented by Library of America, 21 Feb. 2021.
“Spunk: Zora Neale Hurston (1891 - 1960): From Zora Neale Hurston: Novels and Stories.” Story of the Week Presented by Library of America, 21 Feb. 2021.
Wolfe, George C. and Chic Street Man. Spunk: Three Tales by Zora Neale Hurston. Revised ed., Dramatists Play Service, 2000.