Thursday, May 12, 2011

Zora Neale Hurston

For the second time, I’m tellin’ yuh!
by Charlie Leck

I read Zora Neale Hurston’s book twice this week. I wrote a little about it on Wednesday after my first reading. I’m embarrassed that I had not been aware of this novel’s importance. I’m more embarrassed that I had not know what an important and good writer Ms. Huston was.

I could quote dozens and dozens of extraordinary sections of this dialogue-rich book for you. It’s better, I think, to just encourage you again to go get a copy of it out of the library and read it for yourself. Yet, I can’t resist sharing just one small taste of this delicious treat.

“…It’s uh known fact, Pheoby, you got tuh go there tuh know there. Yo’ papa and yo’ mama and nobody else can’t tell yuh and show yuh. Two things everybody’s got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves.

“There was a finished silence after that so that for the first time they could hear the wind picking at the pine trees. It made Pheoby think of Sam waiting for her and getting fretful. It made Janie think about that room upstairs – her bedroom. Pheoby hugged Janie real hard and cut the darkness in flight.”

Oh, my!

Zora Neale Hurston graduated from Barnard College in Manhattan.

THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD was published first in 1937. It has a great deal to say about marriage – and not just in black culture. Janie Crawford’s first two husbands tried to possess her and treated her more as property than as human and woman. In a third husband, an unacceptable and wild character, she found a man who loved her as woman and allowed her the freedom any and every human needs to grow.

This novel is as beautiful as the loveliest music, carrying one softly through the lives of people one otherwise would not have gotten to know. Hurston brings you inside the southern black community of Eatonville, incorporated in 1887, not long after the emancipation of the slaves. It was the first post-Civil War black municipality. Hurston actually grew up here. You get to know her characters closely and you are charmed by some of them and hateful of others. The intimacy and realism of both the settings and the dialogue is extraordinary.

It took a long time for America to discover Hurston, but she is clearly now in the top levels of American, black and feminist writers.

Next, I intend to download a copy of Hurston’s book, Mules and Men, and give that a go.


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