Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) is the coming-of-age story of Janie Crawford, an African American woman growing up in Eatonville, Florida—one of the first incorporated African American towns in the United States. Hurston wrote the novel during a critical moment for African American writers. The “New Negro Movement” and the Harlem Renaissance presented African American artists with the opportunity to use their art as a way to authentically represent the African American experience. However, scholars such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, and Richard Wright often debated about the actual authenticity of these representations as well as the role of the black artist. Many African American artists, including Richard Wright, found Hurston’s novel to be problematic. Her emphasis on black folk culture and her representations of African American men were often criticized as being counterproductive to the image of the “New Negro.” Despite the criticism Their Eyes Were Watching God received, Hurston’s powerful prose and honest depictions of the African American experience have inspired many contemporary readers, and the novel has become an integral part of the American literary canon.
Additional resources for research
- Historical and Literary Context, Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Big Read, National Endowment for the Arts.
- Zora Neale Hurston: Documents and Media, The Florida Memory Project.
- Zora Neale Hurston Plays at the Library of Congress, the Library of Congress.