Their Eyes Were Watching God

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Article in Adult Fiction, African American, Big Read, Historical, and Themes categories.

“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." (Chapter 20)

Ways to experience the story of Their Eyes Were Watching God

Read it: We have copies of the novel in the Adult fiction section Listen to it: We have audio versions on tape and CD Watch it: We have the movie on DVD

About the Author

One of eight children, Zora Neale Hurston was born in Notasulga, Alabama on January 7, 1891. At a young age, her family moved to Eatonville, Florida, the first all African-American town to be incorporated in the United States. Eatonville is where Hurston spent most of her childhood. Her father later became mayor of the town, which Zora would glorify in her stories as a place black Americans could live as they desired, independent of white society. Hurston was offered a scholarship to Barnard College where she received her B.A. in anthropology in 1927. While she was at Barnard, she conducted ethnographic research under her advisor, the noted anthropologist Franz Boas of Columbia University. Hurston applied her ethnographic training to document African American folklore in her critically acclaimed book Mules and Men (1935) along with fictional stories like Their Eyes Were Watching God. (see Wikipedia entry)

Other Works by Zora Neale Hurston

Complete Stories Dust Track on a Road Every Tongue Got to Confess Folklore, Memoirs, and Other Writings I Love Myself When I am Laughing...and Then Again When I am Looking Mean Jonah’s Gourd Vine: A Novel Lies and Other Tales Moses, Man of the Mountain Mule Bone Novels and Stories Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti & Jamaica Spunk Zora Neal Hurston: A Life in Letters

“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.” (Chapter 1)

Other novels with Southern settings

The Color Purple, by Alice Walker— Sisters Nettie and Celie, the former a missionary in Africa, the latter a southern woman trapped in an unhappy marriage, share their thoughts and experiences throughout a thirty-year correspondence. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize. The Awakening, by Kate Chopin— The novel is set in and around New Orleans, Louisiana. The novel’s protagonist, Edna Pontellier, is forever altered by the free-spirited culture she encounters on Grand Isle. The Known World, by Edward Jones— This debut novel is set in 1840’s Manchester County, Virginia. Mudbound, by Hillary Jordan— This novel won the 2006 Bellwether Prize. The story takes place in the Mississippi Delta. It eloquently tells the story of struggling farm life in 1940s America. Beloved, by Toni Morrison—Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Beloved is the haunting tale of Sethe, an escaped slave. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers— This novel is set in a small mill town in Georgia. It tells the triumphs and struggles of its small-town inhabitants. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner The Optimist's Daughter, by Eudora Welty

Harlem Renaissance

In the 1920s, the Harlem, New York community became the economic, political, and cultural center of black America. Various literary and artistic works were created celebrating the African-American experience. Zora Neale Hurston was closely associated with this movement, known as the Harlem Renaissance. If you’re interested in this time period, here are a few further examples of Harlem Renaissance writers: Cane, by Jean Toomer Home to Harlem, by Claude McKay Quicksand, by Nella Larsen The Ways of White Folks, by Langston Hughes Any Place But Here, by Arna Bontemps Collected Poems of Sterling A. Brown, by Sterling A. Brown My Soul’s High Song: The Collected Writings of Countee Cullen, Voice of the Harlem Renaissance, by Countee Cullen The Chinaberry Tree: A Novel of American Life, by Jessie Redmon Faust The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, by James W. Johnson Quicksand and Passing, by Nella Larsen

“Mama exhorted her children at every opportunity to 'jump at de sun.' We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground. “ Zora Neale Hurston from Dust Tracks on the Road—her autobiography


"They sat in company with the others in other shanties, their eyes straining against crude walls and their souls asking if He meant to measure their puny might against His. They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God." (chapter 18)

Hurricanes have grabbed the headlines in recent memory, with the devastating destruction of Hurricane Katrina. Closer to home, in 1969, Hurricane Camille destroyed Nelson and southern Albemarle Counties. Here are some stories of their aftermath.

Torn Land, by Paige Shoaf Simpson Roar of the Heavens, by Stefan Bechtel Category 5: The Story of Camille, Lessons Unlearned from America's Most Violent Hurricane, by Ernest Zebrowski 1 Dead in Attic, by Chris Rose

Quick Fact -- According to her autobiography, Zora Neale Hurston wrote Their 
Eyes Were Watching God in seven weeks while she was conducting ethnographic fieldwork in 
Haiti and recovering from a failed romance.   The circumstances were hardly promising, 
but the novel, published in September 1937, almost exactly a year after she arrived in 
Port-au-Prince, is considered by some to be her  masterpiece.   (Barbara Johnson, “Metaphor,
Metonymy, and Voice in Their Eyes Were Watching God,” in  A World of Difference  1987.)

Share the Their Eyes Were Watching God experience with younger readers

Young Adult Fiction

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, by Gary D. Schmidt If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period, by Gennifer Choldenko The Legend of Buddy Bash and The Return of Buddy Bash, by Shelia P. Moses

Young Adult Non-Fiction

Sorrow’s Kitchen: The Life and Folklore of Zora Neale Hurston, by Mary Lyons Rhythm & Folklore: The Story of Zora Neale Hurston, by Kerrily Sapet Juvenile Literature: The Skull Talks Back and Other Haunting Tales, by Zora Neale Hurston Roll of Thunder Hear Me Cry, by Mildred Taylor Her Stories, by Virginia Hamilton Ain’t Nothin’ But a Man, by Scott Reynolds Nelson

Juvenile Picture Books

Roy Makes a Car, by Mary Lyons—based on a story collected by Zora Neale Hurston The Other Side, by Jacqueline Woodson White Socks Only, by Evelyn Coleman Dear Willie Rudd, by Libba Moore Gray