DescriptionMule Bone: A Comedy of Negro Life is a 1930 play by American authors Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston. The process of writing the play led Hughes and Hurston, who had been close friends, to sever their relationship. Mule Bone was not staged until 1991. The play begins in Eatonville, Florida, on a Saturday afternoon with Jim and Dave fighting for Daisy's affection. The two men come to blows, and Jim picks up a hock bone from a mule and knocks Dave out. Jim is arrested and held for trial in Joe Clarke's barn. On Monday, the trial begins in the Macedonia Baptist Church. The townspeople are divided along religious lines: Jim's Methodist supporters sit on one side of the church, Dave's Baptist supporters on the other. The issue to be decided at the trial is whether or not Jim has committed a crime. Jim admits he hit Dave but denies it was a crime. Elder Simms argues on Jim's behalf that a weapon is necessary to commit a crime, and nowhere in the Bible does it say a mule bone is a weapon. Elder Childers, representing Dave, says Samson used a donkey's jawbone to kill 3,000 men (citing Judges 18:18),  so the hock bone of a mule must be even more powerful. Joe Clarke declares Jim guilty and banishes him from town for two years. Hughes and Hurston began writing Mule Bone in March 1930. They wanted to write a comedy about African-American life that didn't consist of racial stereotypes. They decided to base the plot on a folktale Hurston had collected in Florida during one of her anthropological field trips. The two writers dictated their work to Louise Thompson, who typed it. Their work was almost completed in June, when Hurston went away for the summer. She took her notes and said she would return in the fall, and they could finish the play. When Hurston came back, she would not return telephone calls from Hughes. She felt he wanted Thompson to be considered a third collaborator in the project, a proposal to which she strongly objected. Concurrently, Hughes was in the process of severing his relationship with their common literary patron, Mrs. Rufus Osgood Mason. Reviewers have conjectured that Hurston may have been trying to protect her own relationship with Mason by shunning Hughes. Hurston submitted Mule Bone for copyright in October 1930, listing herself as the only author. In January 1931, Hughes found that a copy of Mule Bone had been sent to the Gilpin Players, an all-black theatre company in Cleveland, for their consideration-bearing only Hurston's name. Hurston told Hughes she hadn't sent them the play, an assertion that was true, but Hughes was furious. He sent a copy for copyright under both their names. In the meantime, the Gilpin Players wanted to stage the play. The play was still somewhat rough, but Hughes was in Cleveland, and he offered to help rewrite portions of the play. Hurston sent a telegram advising that she refused to allow the production. A day later, she sent another telegram authorizing the production on the condition that she be allowed to work with Hughes on changes. That same day, Hughes received a letter from Hurston saying that no part of the play had been written by him. In light of all the off-stage drama, the Gilpin Players decided not to proceed with their production. The copy of Mule Bone in the Langston Hughes papers at Yale University has a hand-written notation by Hughes: "This play was never done because the authors fell out.
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September 08, 2014
6.0 X 0.09 X 9.0 inches | 0.16 pounds
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About the Author
Zora Neale Hurston (January 7, 1891- January 28, 1960) was an American author, anthropologist, and filmmaker. She portrayed racial struggles in the early-1700s American South and published research on hoodoo. The most popular of her four novels is Their Eyes Were Watching God, published in 1937. She also wrote more than 50 short stories, plays, and essays. Hurston was born in Notasulga, Alabama, and moved with her family to Eatonville, Florida, in 1894. She later used Eatonville as the setting for many of her stories. It is now the site of the "Zora! Festival", held each year in her honor. In her early career, Hurston conducted anthropological and ethnographic research while a student at Barnard College and Columbia University. She had an interest in African-American and Caribbean folklore, and how these contributed to the community's identity. She also wrote fiction about contemporary issues in the black community and became a central figure of the Harlem Renaissance. Her short satires, drawing from the African-American experience and racial division, were published in anthologies such as The New Negro and Fire!!. After moving back to Florida, Hurston wrote and published her literary anthropology on African-American folklore in North Florida, Mules and Men (1935), and her first three novels: Jonah's Gourd Vine (1934); Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937); and Moses, Man of the Mountain (1939). Also published during this time was Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica (1938), documenting her research on rituals in Jamaica and Haiti.
Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was born in Joplin, Missouri, and lived much of his life in Harlem, New York. As one America's most cherished chroniclers of the black experience, known for his work during the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes's work was constantly groundbreaking throughout his forty-six-year career. His poetry about the ocean and the symbolism that surrounds it stems from his travels through Africa and Europe working as a seaman.