Books That Inspire 2009

Their Eyes Were Watching God
Zora Neale Hurston

I discovered Their Eyes Were Watching God a decade ago, while reading In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens by Alice Walker. An essay entitled “Looking for Zora” (originally published as “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston” in a 1975 issue of Ms Magazine) describes Walker’s quest to find the writer’s grave—then unmarked—in 1973. Hurston had died, penniless and virtually unknown, in 1960. Their Eyes had not received critical acclaim by Zora’s contemporaries—yet Walker wrote with fantastic passion about the novel and its tremendous impact on her life. I had to read the book myself. Fortunately for me, Hurston’s novel is today widely available, thanks to Walker and other critics who re-examined the American literary cannon in the 1960s and 70s. Their Eyes is the story of a woman’s life and her struggle to gain self-knowledge and autonomy. In the process, she (Janie Crawford) locates and realizes her voice, which she uses to tell her story in her own way to the person of her choice. The novel is a linguistic delight, beautifully rendered through metaphor. It is also a tender romance steeped in black folk culture, a portrait of an entertaining, independent woman, and an exciting tale to boot.

Tara M. McDaniel
Staff Assistant II
Western History Collections