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'Barracoon' editor Deborah Plant on discovering Zora Neale Hurston, reading Alice Walker

Deborah Plant, the editor of Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo," a newly published book by Zora Neale Hurston. (Courtesy of Deborah Plant)
Published Jul. 5, 2018

Deborah Plant

We caught up with Plant, the editor of Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo," a newly published book by Zora Neale Hurston, after her recent appearance at the Sulphur Springs Museum and Heritage Center. The book is based on Hurston's interviews in 1931 with Cudjo Lewis, who was the last living survivor of the Middle Passage. Plant is the former chairwoman of the University of South Florida department of Africana studies and co-founder of the department's graduate program. She was able to quickly recall when she first became intrigued with Hurston. It was 1979 in Atlanta. Plant found a copy of Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God in the Shrine of the Black Madonna Bookstore. "This book mirrored my life,'' she said. "I stood there in the aisle and read enough to know I had to make the purchase. I had never seen myself so perfectly captured in print before. I mean my cultural self, the language, the customs and traditions.''

What's on your nightstand?

Now Is the Time to Open Your Heart by Alice Walker. I recommend it because it is true. Now is the only time we have, and if our heart is not open, we are walking around insensitive, mindless, disconnected and very likely unconsciously perpetrating harm in some form or fashion. This book calls us to extricate ourselves from all that undermines, diminishes and obscures our personal sovereignty. It calls us to open, to reconnect with the true self that is one with the earth and all that dwells upon and around her. I would recommend it to everyone who is ready for freedom and joy.

Piper Castillo, Times staff writer

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