“Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place,” Zora Neale Hurston.
I use to become so sad when I thought about my favorite author, one of the greatest inspirations to make me put a pen to paper died penniless, without notoriety, and buried in an unmarked grave. Admittedly, after my initial reading of her most notable work, Their Eyes Were Watching God, I was too young to comprehend its true significance but it was immediately a refreshing change from the other books I had read so far. The dialect she used, the scenery, and themes were unequivocally black and southern. It was a reflection of women who were just like me. Prayerfully, despite her disillusioned demise, I hoped that she envisioned that the art that she left behind has inspired so many great black women authors including Alice Walker and Toni Morrison.
While Hurston’s legacy is tied to the popularity of her novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, she wrote several short stories, plays, and essays. Growing up in Eatonville, Florida, one of the nation’s oldest black incorporated towns, she was privy to witness black success in an era when such feats where rarely exemplified. Her childhood living in a thriving, all-black town serves as a catalyst for much of her work, giving a first-hand account of the self-reliant and euphoric livelihood built solely by the hands of black people. This beauty was occurring right in the heart of segregation in the United States. Though she did not receive much formal education before her degree from Barnard College and worked a list of menial jobs before focusing on writing, Hurston was always known for her witty charm and infectious nature. Her personality and tenacity would lead her to form friendships with some of the most notable figures of the Harlem Renaissance including poets Countee Cullen and Langston Hughes and popular singer, Ethel Waters.
Hurston is now considered an important figure in Black and women’s literary history, but this was not always the case. Many of her black contemporaries, including W.E.B DuBois, found fault in the subject matter she wrote about and the vernacular in which she used. They considered her usage of natural dialect unbecoming as many people during that time considered proper English the only suitable way to write. Thankfully, audiences have gravitated to the beauty of African American tongue and her unique writing style has been emulated several times over.
To fully celebrate the greatness that was Zora Neale Hurston, I suggest a reawakening by reading some of her greatest but lesser known works. My personal favorites are Color Struck and Mules and Men. Below is a short list of some of her works that have not garnered the same reception as Their Eyes Were Watching God but are equally as great.
Moses, Man of the Mountain (Fiction)
Barracoon: The Story of the Last Black Cargo (Nonfiction)
Dust Tracks on a Road (Autobiography)
Mules and Men (Nonfiction)
Every Tongue Got to Confess (Fiction)