Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Monday, March 1, 2010

Zora Neale Hurston Depending on Her Own Gods

MARCH 2 - Women's History Month
Anybody depending on somebody else's gods is depending on a fox not to eat chickens.
(Zora Neale Hurston)

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960)

I have read Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God more times than I can count. If you haven’t yet met Janie and Teacake, then you have a treat waiting on you. A huge treat.

Zora Neale Hurston (January 7, 1891 – January 28, 1960) was an American author and folklorist who wrote four novels and more than fifty short stories, plays, and essays.

Her father was a carpenter, tenant farmer, and Baptist preacher, and her mother was a schoolteacher. She was born in Alabama, and her family moved to Eatonville, the first all-Black town incorporated in the United States. To learn more about Eatonville then and now, please click here

Hurston therefore grew up with Blacks in prominent positions – her father was at one time the mayor of the town.

After her mother died and her father remarried, Zora was sent to boarding school. When the fees were unpaid, she worked at menial jobs in an attempt to finish her schooling. When she was 26 years old, she still hadn’t finished high school, but she looked young enough to give her age as 16 and complete her schooling.

She attended Howard University and Barnard College, and received her degree in anthropology in 1927. As an anthropologist, she carried out research in Haiti, Jamaica, Honduras and the American South. Her study of African rituals in Jamaica and in Haiti.

Like Jamaica’s Louise Bennett, Hurston broke new ground by including the speech of the people in her work, despite the debate that continues even till today about the value of the vernacular.

Hurston was part of the Harlem Renaissance, collaborating with outstanding literary figures such as Langston Hughes, Wallace Thurmon, and Ethel Waters. In the 1940s her work was published in such magazines as The Saturday Evening Post.

Despite her tremendous talent, Hurston died without money. Her friends took up a collection for her funeral, but didn’t have enough money for a marker. When Alice Walker found the grave in 1973, she provided it with a marker.

For decades, Hurston’s work was unrecognized. Then Alice Walker stimulated interest in Hurston’s writings with a March 1975 article published in Ms magazine: “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston”. The article revived interest in Hurston.

For more on Zora Neale Hurston’s life and work, please see:

Zora Neale Hurston: A Literary Biography by Robert Hemenway

Wrapped in Rainbows by Valerie Boys

Speak So You Can Speak Again by Hurston's niece, Lucy Anne Hurston

I Love Myself When I Am Laughing...and Then Again When I Am Looking Mean and Impressive: A Zora Neale Hurston Reader (1979). Alice Walker, editor

If you have read Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, please share your thoughts:
• What does the title signify to you?
• What impression do you form about Janie?
• What would you consider to be some of the joys/challenges in the relationship between Teacake and Janie?

I would also be happy to hear from you with any question, comment or added information about Hurston's life and literary talent.

No comments:


When the occasion arises, there is a proverb to suit it. (Proverb from Rwanda and Burundi)

Welcome to this space where we can talk about proverbs that we can relate to (or not), and proverbs that make sense to us (or not). Most of all we can discuss how proverbs make us think about life and living. We can also share experiences of proverbs that have provided us with lifelines or just the chance to reflect.

Some of the proverbs here may also be found in "Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs", published by Random House and authored by Askhari Johnson Hodari and me. The foreword is written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

One of the unique features of our book is that we arranged the proverbs according to life cycle, in sections including, Birth, Childhood, Love, Marriage, and Intimacy, Challenge, and Death.

For more proverbs and for information on Lifelines: the Black Book of Proverbs, please visit us at