Photo: Valerie Caesar.
Zetta Elliott.

In 1928 Zora Neale Hurston published a provocative essay, “How It Feels to Be Colored Me.” In it she describes her childhood in racially segregated Florida and the moment when she left the African-American town of Eatonville and went from being a beloved, recognized member of her community to being an anonymous, insignificant member of a marginalized and despised race. “It seemed that I had suffered a sea change,” she writes before assuring the reader, “But I am not tragically colored.”

Last month I recalled Hurston’s essay and thought to myself, “I am not tragically self-published.” After all, I was heading to UConn to give two (paid) presentations and I later received a similar invitation from a professor at Harvard. When I presented at a school in the Bronx recently, my former student (who had arranged the free visit) thanked me for inspiring the children. Her closing remarks touched and surprised me: “You were so radiant,” she wrote, “I am so glad you've found such happiness, purpose, and much deserved success as an author.”