Their Eyes Were Watching God indicts the myriad forms of discrimination that get in the way of a black woman's self-expression and freedom. The novel follows the life of Janie Woods, a woman with a voracious appetite for experience, a free spirit in a world of fear, status, and materialism.

The story takes place in Florida, mostly in the all-black town of Eatonville and in the Florida Everglades, or "the muck," as it is referred to by the characters. Janie's search for love and engagement takes her through two trying marriages until she finally finds Tea Cake, a man who wants a true partner. They live their lives to the fullest until a disastrous hurricane changes everything. Janie struggles and prevails and leaves the reader feeling that, even through tragedy, life is a triumph as long as it is lived!

Partly due to the work's dismissal by the male critics of the Harlem Renaissance, author Zora Neale Hurston was largely forgotten and living on state aid at the time of her death; friends took a collection to bury her in an unmarked grave in Fort Pierce, Florida. Understanding Hurston's art, however, means understanding that the circumstances of her death did not make her an unhappy woman. In fact, projecting her own death, Hurston once wrote, "...I have made phenomenal growth as a creative artist. I am not materialistic... If I happen to die without money, somebody will bury me, though I do not wish it to be that way."

Though it was that way in 1960, Hurston's spirit was destined for resurrection. Thanks to some help from Alice Walker, Hurston was "rediscovered" and reevaluated, and Their Eyes was reprinted, selling 200,000 copies between 1978-1988. When she traveled to Florida in 1973, Walker placed a gravestone for Hurston that read: "Zora Neale Hurston: A Genius of the South." We think you will find this epitaph accurate!

Hurston was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts in 1936; she then won an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award (recognizing works that contribute to an understanding of racism and diversity) in 1943 for her autobiography Dust Tracks on a Road. Their Eyes Were Watching God has inspired theatrical, film, and radio adaptations.

We look forward to sharing this book with you! In each of four emails, which you can schedule to receive at a pace that suits your needs, you will receive:

  • A summary of a portion of the book.
  • Commentary by Julia Davis.
  • Questions for reflection and practice.
  • An invitation to journal about what you're learning.

Your guide for this exploration is Julia (Julie) Davis, who was a 2018 - 2019 fellow with The Practicing Democracy Project. Julia holds an M.A. and C.Phil. in English and American Literatures and Cultures from Brown University and a B.A. in English from the University of California at Santa Barbara. When she created this program, she was pursuing her Master of Divinity at Claremont School of Theology with a focus on Interfaith Chaplaincy. Her interest in chaplaincy grew out of her 17 years experience teaching American literature at the college and high school level. Julia is passionate about the intersection of spiritual practices and social change.

Their Eyes Were Watching God is one of twelve books included in the We the People Book Club, an opportunity to strengthen your vision of democracy by contemplating America's past and possibilities as presented by classic and contemporary literary voices. Much of the material in this course is available in a free, downloadable guide. You may also be interested in the other books in this series, which are listed on the book club's webpage.

(4 CEHs for chaplains available.)

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