Black History Month: “Their Eyes Were Watching God”

Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” (1937).

This novel from the Harlem Renaissance has gained in popularity in the last 30 years or so, since Alice Walker wrote an essay called “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston.”

From the Zora Neale Hurston Web site:

The epic tale of Janie Crawford, whose quest for identity takes her on a journey during which she learns what love is, experiences life’s joys and sorrows, and come home to herself in peace. Her passionate story prompted Alice Walker to say, “There is no book more important to me than this one.”

When first published in 1937, this novel about a proud, independent black woman was generally dismissed by male reviewers. Out of print for almost thirty years, but since its reissue in paperback edition by the University of Illionois Press in 1978, Their Eyes Were Watching God has become the most widely read and highly acclaimed novel in the canon of African-American literature.

With haunting sympathy and piercing immediacy, Their Eyes Were Watching God tells the story of Janie Crawford’s evolving selfhood through three marriages. Light-skinned, long-haired, dreamy as a child, Janie grows up expecting better treatment than she gets until she meets Tea Cake, a younger man who engages her heart and spirit in equal measure and gives her the chance to enjoy life without being a man’s mule or adornment. Though Jaine’s story does not end happily, it does draw to a satisfying conclusion. Janie is one black woman who doesn’t have to live lost in sorrow, bitterness, fear, or foolish romantic dreams, instead Janie proclaims that she has done “two things everbody’s got tuh do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go tuh God, and they got tuh find out about livin’ fuh theyselves.”

The novel also has been selected this year for the NEA’s Big Read, which libraries in the Capital Region will be taking part in. For information, go to

You may also be interested in the following events:
The Big Read
May 4 (Friday): Biographer and scholar Lucy Anne Hurston
An Afternoon With Lucy Anne Hurston – 2:00 p.m., Guilderland Public Library, 2228 Western Avenue, Guilderland
THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD (United States, 2005, 98 minutes, color, DVD) film screening followed by commentary by Lucy Anne Hurston – 7:00 p.m., Page Hall, 135 Western Avenue, Downtown Campus Lucy Anne Hurston, niece of major 20th century writer Zora Neale Hurston, is the author of the remarkable multimedia biography, “Speak, So You Can Speak Again: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston” (2004), which consists of text, photographs, a CD, and various pieces of removable memorabilia.
Cosponsored by the Upper Hudson Library System as part of “The Big Read,”an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Arts Midwest.

Barbara Smith also recommends these books:

Albany Public Library
The Big Read
May 4-June 3, 2007

If you liked Their Eyes Were Watching God, you might also enjoy…..

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

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

*Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin

*The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. DuBois

Every Tongue Got to Confess: Negro Folktales From the Gulf State by Zora Neale Hurston
Mules and Men by Zora Neale Hurston

Beloved by Toni Morrison
*The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
*Sula by Toni Morrison

Miss Muriel and Other Stories by Ann Petry
*The Street by Ann Petry

Cane by Jean Toomer

The Color Purple by Alice Walker
*In Love & Trouble: Stories of Black Women by Alice Walker

*Black Boy by Richard Wright
Native Son by Richard Wright

Here’s a previous post on the Big Read.

Thanks especially to Barbara Smith, author and Albany Common Council member, for her recommendations for this post, and others. Also to Lisa Stevens, my co-worker, and Eleanor at Flights of Fantasy, for their contributions. You were all very helpful.

The previous authors and writings featured on this blog for Black History Month:
“The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano”
Gwendolyn Brooks
August Wilson
“Our Nig” by Harriet Wilson
“Twelve Years A Slave” by Solomon Northup
“The Souls of Black Folks” by W.E.B. Du Bois
Langston Hughes
“Cane” by Jean Toomer
“The Great Negro Plot” by Mat Johnson
“Passing” by Nella Larsen
“Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass”
“The Autobiography of Malcolm X”
“I Have a Dream” speech”
“Sula” by Toni Morrison
“The Known World” by Edward P. Jones
“The Color Purple” by Alice Walker
“The Intuitionist” by Colson Whitehead
“Up From Slavery” by Booker T. Washington
“Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison
Sonia Sanchez
“Black Girl in the Ring” by Nola Hopkinson
June Jordan
“Flight to Canada” by Ishmael Reed
Gloria Naylor
“Fledgling” by Octavia E. Butler
Chester Himes
“Apex Hides the Hurt” by Colson Whitehead


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