Her Eyes Are Watching Us

In summer 2013, I attended the American Library Association’s Annual Conference at McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago, with my writers group Sisters in Crime. I appeared and worked in our booth before I canvassed the gigantic exhibition arena. This is one event where I can collect with similarly rabid bookworms who stampede for a free hardback the way wannabe Carrie Bradshaws hunt down sample Manolo Blahniks. Many attendees know they will go home with back muscles pulled and sprained shoulders, and giveaway plus review copies of the latest books will be to blame.

I must admit it is kind of ridiculous to remember myself crawling on the floor at the MacMillan and Random House and Harper Collins and Houghton-Mifflin thrones, to reach behind piles and under tables just to make sure I left no book unturned in my search. Although all the free (and even autographed) books were sweet, I could have walked out of there with my little Harper Perennial-created “Zora Neale Hurston” poster. With it in my bag, I felt like I hit a jackpot as big as my four tote bags of free books.

In addition to being part of the generation of literary scholars for whom Miss Hurston is thankfully required reading and being a benefactor of the dusty roads Miss Hurston’s generation paved for Black writers, I had the honor of playing her in Laurence Holder’s monologue play “Zora” at the ETA Creative Arts Foundation. A bulk of my interests and research as an English graduate student concentrated upon Miss Hurston and her contemporaries: how their lives and fates unwound, how they saw themselves compared to how we see them today, and why they created how they did. Miss Hurston was a fascinating treasure I never tired of reading and reading about.

When the seasons turned to a typically brutal Midwestern winter and I began to succumb to seasonal affective disorder, which I have always managed with patience and hope, I suddenly remembered my complimentary poster. I hung it up in front of where I work. Each time I sit down, Hurston’s face greets me as surrounded by her major book-length works, underneath Toni Morrison’s brief description: “One of the greatest writers of our time.” It is promising to believe she looks out from somewhere to watch the fruits of her lifelong and formerly underappreciated labor: generations who are the better for the Americana she captured and dignified.

Carl Van Vechten, Chicago, 1934

Today, January 7, is Zora Neale Hurston’s birthday.

For more information on Zora Neale Hurston, her life, her work and how you can contribute to the drive to continue her remembrance, visit: http://www.ZoraNealeHurston.com.

About Zora Neale Hurston: Novelist, anthropologist, folklorist, journalist, and playwright, Hurston was a luminary of the Harlem Renaissance. The author of four novels, her masterpiece Their Eyes Were Watching God, after being out of print for nearly forty years, was reprinted in 1978 and is a perennial best seller, and is used widely on college campuses around the country. Dismissed by much of the White and Black literary establishment for the humor, dialect, and pathos in her work when it was originally published, Zora Neale Hurston has found a loyal and loving audience among contemporary readers, and Their Eyes Were Watching God has been called one of the finest American novels ever written.

Books by Zora Neale Hurston

Mules and Men

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Dust Tracks on a Road

Tell My Horse

Jonah’s Gourd Vine

Moses, Man of the Mountain

Seraph on the Suwannee

Every Tongue Got to Confess

(Biography and Photograph Courtesy of Hurston-Wright Foundation

 Further Reading:

Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston, Valerie Boyd

When Harlem Was in Vogue, David Levering Lewis

Speak, So You Can Speak Again: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston by Lucy Anne Hurston

**Since the time of this writing, a new work by Zora Neale Hurston has been discovered: Barracoon, The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”, based on her interviews with Cudjo Lewis of Plateau, Alabama.

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