How It Feels Be Colored Me – Discussion Guide

Let’s read the first three paragraphs!

Let’s watch this video!

Now let’s reread the first three paragraphs!

How important is to know the author’s actual voice when we read a biography or a memoir?

As much as an author conveys her message in her voice, the reader creates a different voice in his mind based on the overall “mood” of the text.


  1. Can you guess Julian’s actual voice?
  2. What are the elements that give How It Feels Be Colored Me a “blues” mood and not a “jazz” one?

Reading the next passages, think:

  1. How many changes does Zora Neale Hurston’s identity go through? Does this change make her text a memoir?
  2. What is Zora’s opinion on white and black Americans? Why stating her opinion is important for the memoir?

“But changes came in the family when I was thirteen (her mother died), and I was sent to school in Jacksonville. I left Eatonville…a Zora. When I disembarked from the river-boat at Jacksonville, she was no more. It seemed that I had suffered a sea change. I was not Zora of Orange County any-more, I was now a little colored girl. I found it out in certain ways…”

But I am not tragically colored… I do not mind at all…I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less. No, I do not weep at the world–I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.

Someone is always at my elbow, reminding me that I am the granddaughter of slaves. It fails to register depression with me. Slavery is sixty years in the past. The operation was successful, and the patient is doing well, thank you.

I do not always feel colored…I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.

When I sit in the drafty basement that is The New World Cabaret with a white person, my color comes… In the abrupt way that jazz orchestras have, this one
plunges into a number. It loses no time in circumlocutions but gets right down to business…I dance wildly inside myself; I yell within, I whoop; I shake my assegai above my head, I hurl it true to the mark yeeeeooww! I am in the jungle and living in the jungle way. My face is painted red and yellow and my body is painted blue. My pulse is throbbing like a war drum. I want to slaughter something–give pain, give death to what, I do not know. 

At certain times I have no race, I am me.

I have no separate feeling about being an American citizen and colored.

But in the main, I feel like a brown bag of miscellany propped against a wall. Against a wall in company with other bags, white, red and yellow. Pour out the contents, and there is discovered a jumble of small things priceless and worthless.

Final thoughts:

  1. The text has a lot of opinions and not that much “life” moments. Is it a confession or a memoir?
  2. Zora decides to finish the text with the message, “there are no races and colors, we are all people who carry the same package.” How does this message change the genre of the text and why? (re-reading the text, I got the impression that the text changes purpose after the first paragraphs; “more broadly, collaborative life writing generally has an ethnographic aspect (textbook 159)).

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