October 3, 2023
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v2.1 Reference

The Chase and Ruins

Zora Neale Hurston in Honduras

A fascinating look at a pivotal period in Zora Neale Hurston's life that reimagines her complicated legacy.

Zora Neale Hurston, an anthropologist and writer best known for her classic novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, led a complicated life often marked by tragedy and contradictions. When both she and her writing fell out of favor after the Harlem Renaissance, she struggled not only to regain an audience for her novels, but also to simply make ends meet. In The Chase and Ruins, Sharony Green uncovers an understudied but important period of Hurston's life: her stay in Honduras in the late 1940s.

On the eve of an awful accusation that nearly led to her suicide, Hurston fled to Honduras in search of a lost Mayan ruin. During her yearlong trip south of the US border, she appears to have never found the ruin she was chasing. But by escaping the Jim Crow south to Honduras, she avoided racist violence in the United States while still embracing her privilege—and power—as a US citizen in postwar Central America. While in Honduras, Hurston wrote Seraph on the Suwanee, her final novel and her only book to feature white characters, in an attempt to appeal to Hollywood's growing appetite for "crackerphilia" (stories about poor white folks) and to finally secure herself some financial stability. In a letter to her editor, Hurston wrote that in Honduras, she may not have found the Mayan ruin she was looking for, but she finally found herself.

Hurston's experience in Honduras has much to teach us not only about Black women's lives and the thorny politics of postwar America, but also America's long and complicated entanglement with Central America. In an attempt to find historical meaning in an extraordinary woman's conceptions of herself in a changing world, Green unearths letters, diaries, literary writings, research reports, and other archival materials. The Chase and Ruins encourages us to reckon with and reimagine Hurston's fascinating life in all of its complexity and contradictions.

About the Author

Award-winning writer Sharony Green is an associate professor of history at the University of Alabama. She is the author of Remember Me to Miss Louisa: Hidden Black-White Intimacies in Antebellum America.


"With minute examination of Hurston's correspondence and extensive speculation and imagining, Sharony Green seeks to recover Hurston's stay in Honduras in 1947. Layered with history, geography, agriculture, politicians, businesspeople, researchers, and travel writers, the book emphasizes that Hurston is still as mysteriously intriguing as she was at the peak of her career."

- Trudier Harris, author of Summer Snow: Reflections From a Black Daughter of the South

"This compelling chronicle of Zora Neale Hurston's quixotic search for a Mayan ruin explores the political, social, and historical context of Hurston's final years, the last chapter of a fascinating life informed, but not defined, by her identity as a Black American woman. A powerful book."

- Teresa Prados-Torreira, author of The Power of Their Will: Slaveholding Women in Nineteenth-Century Cuba

"A lush postcard of a book—beautifully written, compulsively readable, and startlingly poignant. Mining a treasure trove of personal letters and rarely considered primary materials, Green reveals not only the interior struggles of the great Zora Neale Hurston in the latter stage of her career, but also the backroom chatter of Harlem Renaissance legends like Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps. Longing, creativity, competition, decline, racial politics, and US identity in a transnational American context are all explored in this elegant take on Hurston's Honduran sojourns."

- Tiya Miles, author of All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley's Sack, a Black Family Keepsake

"By critically exploring Zora Neale Hurston's Honduras sojourn, Green convincingly reveals how the Harlem Renaissance author's Mayan ruin search provided the necessary spiritual sustenance for completing Seraph on the Suwannee while also coping with her declining career and final years in South Florida."

- Hilary Green, author of Educational Reconstruction: African American Schools in the Urban South, 1865–1890

"This important book changes what we thought we knew. By asking largely overlooked questions about why Hurston searched for Mayan ruins in Honduras, Green's reporter's eye, scholarly dedication, and engaging narrative complicate an icon. Hurston said that Honduras gave her back her self. Green enriches Hurston to gift us the writer anew."

- Carla Kaplan, editor of Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters

"The Chase and Ruins is a prismatic excavation of the most underrepresented period of Zora Neale Hurston's life. But Sharony Green doesn't just tell the story. There is love in these pages."

- Dolen Perkins-Valdez, New York Times–bestselling author of Take My Hand
Johns Hopkins University Press
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9781421446660 : the-chase-and-ruins-green
October 3, 2023
$28.95 USD

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