At 16, I met Zora Neale Hurston. I tucked her inside like a sterling silver pendant worn close to my heart. Her spirit traversed through decades and the bedlam of high school to appear on my desk in the form of an autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road.
This was the time in my life when I wanted to go, go, go. Zora’s words beckoned me to follow her lead:
My vagrancy had begun in reality. I knew that. There was an end to my journey and it had happiness in it for me. It was certain and sure. But the way! Its agony was equally certain. It was before me, and no one could spare me my pilgrimage. The rod of compelment was laid to my back. I must go the way.
Zora Neale Hurston is a Daughter of the Dust, leaving tracks along the many routes she’s traveled, always moving on but leaving imprints of where she comes from. Perhaps my obsession with roots & routes started there, within the pages of Zora’s book. I walk miles through her language, like the journey from a blank screen into the unknown stories we’re meant to tell.
A year later, Zora and I reacquainted, this time in a novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God.
She was sixteen. She had glossy leaves and bursting buds and she wanted to struggle with life but it seemed to elude her. Where were the singing bees for her? Nothing on the place nor in her grandma’s house answered her. She searched as much of the world as she could from the top of the front steps and then went on down to the front gate and leaned over to gaze up and down the road. Looking, waiting, breathing short impatience. Waiting for the world to be made.
What artistry! How could a high school girl not be enchanted by such voodoo?
Though I fell in love in high school, it wasn’t until I changed my major from architecture to English midway through undergrad that I began to study Zora Neale Hurston’s text. Her depiction of a character’s emotional state and world view through their location in the scene. Geography is not only a metaphor depicting ideology, but the concrete manifestation of ideology. She tells the story of her time and her people with poetic prose.
She enriched her work with anthropological research and publications on African American folklore. All of her writing celebrates the legacies crafted by blacks out of their environments, memories, and dreams. No matter how far she ascended into the Harlem Renaissance elite, or how much she traveled, she never distanced herself from those cultural roots. Rather, her travels brought her deeper, closer to them.
Beyond 1891, Zora Neale Husrton continues to be born and read, alive even today.
In honor of Zora’s birthday today, Jan. 7, I invite you to share what you know and love about her in the comments below or on Facebook.