"I regard her early books, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), Jonah's Gourd Vine (1934), and the Florida parts of Mules and Men (1939), depicting life in the turpentine camps, to be in the top rung of American writing, certainly as good as anything anyone has ever written about Florida. And take another look at those titles. They are as exceptional as the wonderful imagery she possessed and gave to her readers, as real as the hurricane—from the viewpoint of the Negro—which she pictured among her people in the vegetable raising district around Lake Okeechobee. Zora not only could write but knew what she was writing about."—Theodore Pratt. "Florida’s First Distinguished Author."Negro Digest 11, no. 4 (February 1962): 52–56.
"All her major works bring together a religion of opposites, and when these opposites are made to coincide, there is the power of new life. Each work vibrates with her powerful imagination. The accuracy of her words builds heat for the sun, gives body to thought. Zora Neale Hurston: a beautiful writer, the most prolific Black female writer in America."—Ellease Southerland. "The Novelist-Athropologist's Life/Works."Black World 23, no. 10 (August 1974): 20–30.
"One of the few miracles in this world is the survival of love and loyalty among Black people in America, despite the inhuman definitions of manhood and womanhood that have been forced upon us. That miracle of Black love is recorded in Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God."— Mary Helen Washington. "The Black Woman’s Search for Identity."Black World 21, no. 10 (August 1972): 68–75.
"What did it mean for a black woman to be an artist in our grandmothers' time? In our great-grandmothers' day? It is a question with an answer cruel enough to stop the blood."—Alice Walker. "In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens." Within the Circle: An Anthology of African American Literary Criticism from the Harlem Renaissance to the Present. Angelyn Mitchell, ed. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1994.
Lesson and Discussion Prompts
How is Hurston representative of the movement known as the Harlem Renaissance?
Much of Hurston's works are informed by her experience researching and collecting folklore. Where can you find evidence of this influence in her work? How does her work convey that influence?
One of Hurston's most recognized publications is her essay "How It Feels to Be Colored Me." What does Hurston mean when she says "I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes…No, I do not weep at the world—I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife"?
Hurston contributed to Fire!!, an arts and literary magazine devoted to free artistic expression. What kind of material was included in the magazine? Create your own contribution to Fire!!, keeping in mind the themes of the Harlem Renaissance.
Their Eyes Were Watching God was made into a film in 2005.
Their Eyes Were Watching God was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels published since 1923.