by Zora Neale Hurston
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics; 1 edition (May 30, 2006)
One of the most important and enduring books of the twentieth century, Their Eyes Were Watching God brings to life a Southern love story with the wit and pathos found only in the writing of Zora Neale Hurston. Out of print for almost thirty years—due largely to initial audiences’ rejection of its strong black female protagonist—Hurston’s classic has since its 1978 reissue become perhaps the most widely read and highly acclaimed novel in the canon of African-American literature.
About the author
Born January 7, 1891 in Notasulga, Alabama, writer Zora Neale Hurston created several acclaimed works of fiction, including the novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. She was also an outstanding folklorist and anthropologist who worked to record the stories and tales of many cultures, including her own African-American heritage.
To support herself and finance her efforts to get an education, Hurston worked a variety of jobs, including as a maid for an actress in a touring Gilbert and Sullivan group. In 1920, Hurston earned an associate degree from Howard University; she published one of her earliest works in the university’s newspaper. A few years later, she moved to New York City’s Harlem neighborhood, where she became a fixture in the area’s thriving art scene and befriended the likes of Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen, among several others.
She landed a scholarship to Barnard College, where she pursued the subject of anthropology and studied with Franz Boas. In 1927, Hurston returned to Florida to collect African-American folk tales. She would later publish a collection of these stories, entitled Mules and Men (1935).
Hurston released her first novel, Jonah’s Gourd Vine, in 1934. Two years later, she received a Guggenheim fellowship, which allowed her to work on what would become her most famous work: Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937).
In 1942, Hurston published her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road. This personal work was well-received by critics, but her life and career soon began to falter. The once-famous writer and folklorist died poor and alone on January 28, 1960, and was buried in an unmarked grave in Fort Pierce, Florida.
More than a decade later, Alice Walker wrote about Hurston in the essay “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston” (PDF), published in Ms. Magazine in 1975. Walker’s essay helped introduce Hurston to a new generation of readers, and encouraged publishers to print new editions of Hurston’s long-out-of-print novels and other writings.
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