Today marks the birth date of the legendary Zora Neal Hurston – perhaps the earliest known African-American anthropologist/author – and thus we celebrate her life. She was born in Alabama on January 7, 1891 and died nearly penniless – although posthumously acclaimed – on January 28, 1960 in Florida. During her literary career, she authored four novels and countless short stories, but is perhaps best known for her acclaimed novel (later adapted to film) “Their Eyes Were Watching God”.
In reading her work, her sharp wit and observations are clear indications that Hurston was a natural born as well as an academically trained anthropologist and ethnographer (she held a BA in the subject and completed graduate work). Although the dialogue in her narratives was often lambasted by critics for caricaturing African-Americans as illiterate, it is hard to ignore the wisdom and insight that pours out of each text.
I could go on but, being a librarian, there is nothing I love more than to let the author’s work speak for itself. Enjoy these gems:
“I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all. I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are all hurt about it. Even in the helter-skelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less. No, I do not weep at the world—I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.” (Duck tracks on a Road)
“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” (Their Eyes Were Watching God)
Love is lak de sea. It’s uh movin’ thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it’s different with every shore.” (Their Eyes Were Watching God)
“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time.” (Their Eyes Were Watching God)
“The sun had become a light yellow yolk and was walking with red legs across the sky.” (Seraph on the Suwanee)
“If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”
And last but certainly not least (my personal favorite):
“Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.”