Monday, September 10, 2007

Soul Sister Zora Neale Hurston

Zadie Smith wrote this really nice piece on Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God for the Guardian. It reminded me how I discovered the book. When I was a teenager a woman named Alta Star (yes, her real name) gave me a book of collected writings of Hurston's called I Love Myself When I am Laughing. I didn't know what to make of it, so it sat on my shelf until I went to college.

Being an engineering student, I wasn't really encouraged to read, but I got the bug of reading back (I had it as a child) from my summer work study job in the library. I collected books that the patrons had left on tables and desks and returned them to their proper place on the library shelves. Then I saw the book, Their Eyes Were Watching God, by the woman whose name was familiar because of a gift from long ago. I checked the book out myself and brought it home. In one long, rainy night I read it all. I, too, was sadden to leave the beautiful realm that Zora had created. I, too, was tearful at the sad ending. And I, too, was forever changed by Zora's lyrical, powerful words.

From Guardian by Zadie Smith:
"What does soulful mean?" —

Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.

Now, women forget all those things they don't want to remember, and remember everything they don't want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.

It was an aphorism, yet I was unable to deny its strength. It capitalised Time (I was against the capitalisation of abstract nouns) but still I found myself melancholy for these nameless men and their inevitable losses. The second part, about women, struck home. It remains as accurate a description of my mother and me as I have ever read: Then they act and do things accordingly. I relaxed in my chair a little and laid down my pencil. I inhaled that book. Three hours later I was finished and crying a lot, for reasons that both were, and were not, to do with the tragic finale.


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