Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Our Eyes Are Watching Hurston

Dear Readers!

I hope many of you participate in the Spring Book Group's upcoming reading and discussion of Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston.

I myself read this book many moons ago, shortly after graduating from college with a degree in English and a hunger to read books for fun and not for critical theorizing again. I plan to re-read it in advance of the May 21st (2 pm) meeting in the Dickert Room so that I can post a little more intelligently about it, but let me say now that it is a wonderful book that is sure to raise both questions and eyebrows.

I don't want to give out or encourage spoilers here, but I'd love to hear more from y'all (I warned ya!) about what you are taking away from the book as you read it. For me, I think it was who Janie becomes when she falls in love that intrigued me the most.

Just to add some background to the book, I did a quick tour of a few library databases here where I work in Vancouver, WA (add that to my list of virtual spaces). Here is a little summary of what I found.

Zora Neale Hurston was actually raised in the very first incorporated African-American town--Eatonville, FL. She herself described it as the first attempt at self-government on the part of African Americans. The town nourished in her a love of her cultural tradition, and this inspired much of her fiction.

Hurston's mother died when Zora was about nine years old. Her father had remarried shortly after her mother's death, and Hurston's dislike of her stepmother caused her relationship with her father to deteriorate.

Hurston was taken out of school at age 13, and she left home to take a job as a wardrobe girl in a repertory company touring the South. Eighteen months later, she left the troupe in Baltimore, Maryland, and an employer later arranged for her to complete her primary education. She completed her high-school requirements at Morgan Academy in Baltimore. She went on to Howard Prep School and Howard University and earned an associate's degree. She completed her undergraduate education at Barnard College and Columbia University.

Hurston became a part of the African American literati termed the Harlem Renaissance. She became well-known not only for her writing but for her outspokenness, her distinct way of dress, and her refusal to be ashamed of her culture.

(Summarized, quoted from The Encyclopedia of African American Writing in the Credo Reference database.)

Just this little blurb says so much about Hurston and her connection with her character Janie. There's more, but I'll leave it until next time.

Don't forget!

2 pm, May 21st
Dickert Room
Lake Saranac Free Library


  1. Joanna -

    I just finished listening to THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD, and must admit to being astonished by the character of Janie. I think your biographical sketch of Ms. Hurston is prescient, and must agree with you that her background definitely informed Ms. Hurston's writing, and was very much "embedded" in Janie and her life as depicted in the book.

    I found the opening paragraph one of the more compelling pieces of writing I have come upon in a bit: in those words, Ms. Hurston sums up in a nutshell the whole "Men are from Mars, Women from Venus" discussion - with the salient points of departure intact. I found that she manages to hold on to these distinctions, and embellish and expand upon them, throughout the novel.

    The thing that most struck me about Janie was, despite being handed a set of circumstances that were often not ideal (although, OUTWARDLY and TO SOME, they may have APPEARED so), Janie manages to persevere, and, in the end, hold out for attaining the astonishing feeling/state she "discovered" as she lay under the pear tree, as that young, impressionable 17 year old. As she struggled to "achieve" that, she never allows the circumstances she finds herself faced with to make her bitter, or to force her to steer away from attaining that ideal.

    I loved the book. I know the profound impact of culture and expectations, for women in particular, can and have often shaped decision making for women. Janie certainly has these elements thrust upon her. But, in the end, she follows her own vision, and makes her own choices - realizing, at one point, that which she has sought since she first found it at age 17. That Janie does this, "flying in the face" of culture and expectations, is a lesson to us all. I think this is also true of Ms. Hurston, and certainly is writ large across her life. It is unfortunate that she was not recognized for the true visionary and talent that she was, but, such is far too often the case.

    I look forward to our Book Group meeting on Tuesday, and your additional comments regarding the book. :-)

  2. I ended up busier than I wanted to be when the book club convened, so I regret losing my chance to discuss the book further. However, I hope to be involved in the next club meeting!