This essay examines Zora Neale Hurston’s “Story in Harlem Slang” (1942) to analyze how the reading experience of the story captures relational dynamics in the community of Harlem. Written in the “Harlemese,” a distinctive lexicon developed in the 1920s, the story seemingly serves as a dictionary with an attached glossary and illustrations of the vernacular words. Reading the story, however, not so much allows the readers to join the linguistic community as requires them to be conscious of the border-crossing movements. Such a structure is intertwined with the character’s theatrical life as a male prostitute, whose way of belonging to the community is juxtaposed with his sentiment of nostalgia for the Southern life he left behind. By using vernacular English to capture the character’s desire of two directions—the desire to belong to the community and the desire for what is left outside—, “Story in Harlem Slang” literalizes the ways in which the constituents belong to the community through the sense of displacement by living between places without tethering themselves to the fixed positionality. Although the story is marginalized by critics among Hurston’s works, I will argue that it contributes to our understanding of her aesthetic work that addresses the complex dynamics within the black community and the question of how to represent the “people.”

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