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  • Writer's pictureRachel Louise Martin, PhD

Hearing Voices: Thoughts After Reading Zora Neale Hurston's Barracoon: the Story of the Last "Black 

Come August, I’ll feel my body and brain buckling down to the business of writing and research. I’ll take an inexplicable break mid-October and feel deeply resentful when I have to work in December. But for now it’s summer, and all I want to do is travel. It’s been five years since the last time I lived on the academic calendar, but its rhythms still tick inside me like an alternative circadian clock.

If I could design the next six weeks, it would be one long road-trip. This dream vacation wouldn’t be some chi-chi, visually-curated, Instagram-ready expedition but a hot and gritty and undirected one instead. I would leave without knowing what destination would mark my turnaround point. Its aimlessness would be the entire reason for the venture.

My only rule for the road would be to follow John Steinbeck’s lead in Travels with Charley, I would avoid interstates and always choose the backroads. I’d stop whenever I felt the urge, exploring churches and fields and fishing holes and lunch spots. I’d never worry whether I’d gone far enough for the day or learned anything fruitful, though I would (try to) pause each night to journal the past day’s misadventures. Much of the time, I’d open the windows of my Prius and let the noise of the highway be my soundtrack, but when I needed a break from the South’s heat, I’d turn on my AC and replace the cicadas with audiobooks, letting the stories unfold as the miles passed by.

My parents taught me to love audiobooks during our long-ago family road trips to the beach or the mountains. When I was little, my favorite was a recording of the Wind and the Willows. Middle-school me, however, preferred Spunk, a collection of Zora Neale Hurston’s short stories. The best of them, I thought, was “The Gilded Six-Bits” about a marriage that falls apart and then back together again.

I can’t hit the road this summer, but I’ve still been able to indulge in some new writing from Hurston. In 2018, HarperCollins finally published her Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo.”

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