Zora Neale Hurston has had a huge impact on my writings. I hadn’t heard of her until the 80’s after Alice Walker uncovered her works. Walker had Hurston’s books and short stories republished and traveled to Florida, found her unmarked grave and put a marker on it calling her “A Genius of the South.” (Wikipedia)
I had done a study of the Harlem Renaissance in college but no women writers were mentioned back then. So when her works resurfaced around the same time that Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou were hitting the literary scene, I rushed out to get Hurston’s book, Their Eyes Were Watching God.
Once, I got pass the dialect, it proved to be a very rich tale about the loves and trials of Janie Crawford. Hurston showed me how a writer’s choice of words can create colorful images for the reader. Janie is living in rural Florida in an all-black town. She is on her second marriage to the city’s mayor. Many envy her but they do not know what is going on behind closed doors. The mayor finally dies and Janie begins to have an affair with a younger man called Teacake.
The story opens with Janie returning to her home after leaving town with Teacake. It is told through flashbacks and the events unfold to tell all aspects of her life. The book was recently made into a movie and I felt that it was a bit overly sensationalized. I had to continually fast forward the steamy parts while attempting to show it to a group of 8th graders who had read the book.
The movie implied that the title had a meaning different from what I thought it meant. The movie often showed Janie looking into the sky saying she was, ‘watching God.” I thought that the title signified God’s wrath during a horrific storm which Janie and Teacake survive. Janie makes it through after he saves her, but Teacake becomes mad after being bitten by a rabid dog. This book is a must- read!
It resembles some aspects of Hurston’s personal life which often happens with writers. Her father was a mayor of an all-black town in Florida and also married a young vibrant woman, which may have given Hurston some ideas for this book. Their Eyes Were Watching God will leave every reader with some opinions and that is the beauty of a good yarn.
Two of Zora Neale Hurston’s short stories also come to mind. I taught “Sweat” and it had the young men and women in the class having some pretty heated discussions It centered around a loveless and abusive marriage but justice is truly served in the end. The other is “Spunk” which tells about a woman with a lot of courage and attitude I believe that this was Zora’s way of describing herself. I saw both of the short stories staged and they did not disappoint me. The Court Theater got it right!
Zora Neale Hurston stood against the wind and she remains eternally grounded in American literature. I salute her during Women’s History Month and I am so happy that her literary works fell into my lap.
Lynn March 4, 2015