It seems appropriate to begin our look at Their Eyes Were Watching God with Alice Walker, the woman widely credited as having an important role in the revival of popular interest in Zora Neale Hurston’s work that began in the 1970s.
Zora Neale Hurston had been dead for more than a decade, buried in an unmarked Florida grave when Alice Walker’s 1975 essay “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston” was published in Ms. magazine. The essay relayed Walker’s trip ito Florida in search of Hurston’s grave and her conversations with the people she met, some of whom had remembered Hurston and some who hadn’t. It was during this trip that Alice Walker purchased a headstone for Hurston that she had inscribed “genius of the South.”
In her forward to Robert Hemenway’s Zora Neale Hurston: A Literary Biography (University of Illinois Press, 1977), Walker wrote,
“We are a people. A people do not throw their geniuses away. And if they are thrown away, it is our duty as artists and as witnesses for the future to collect them again for the sake of our children, and, if necessary, bone by bone.” (emphasis in original)
Unfortunately, “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston” isn’t available online (believe me, I think I’ve looked just about everywhere) but it was republished in Walker’s book In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens (Harcourt Brace, 1983) as “Looking for Zora,” along with “Zora Neale Hurston: A Cautionary Tale and A Partisan View,” the forward to Robert Hemenway’s book quoted above. The book is available at APL’s Main Library (click here to see if it’s checked in).
Related links of interest:
In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens by Alice Walker (link to APL catalog)
Zora Neale Hurston: A Literary Biography by Robert Hemenway (link to APL catalog)
Video clips of Finding a World that I Thought Was Lost: Zora Neale Hurston and the People She Looked at Very Hard and Loved Very Much, Alice Walker’s Virginia Guildersleeve lecture at Barnard, Oct. 2003
Photographs of Zora Neale Hurston’s gravesite