suggested that some of us read this together for Black History Month. Sometimes you need just that little push to get you to do something you keep saying you're going to do.
The photograph is from the Barnard College archives, Hurston's alma mater, as well as mine.
Janie is raised by her grandmother, who was born in slavery. Nanny loves Janie, but has her mind set on seeing her “sittin’ on porches lak the white madam”, so before she dies, she arranges a marriage for Janie. But it’s one that stifles Janie’s soul, and she meets and runs off to Florida with Jody. Jody is a leader, a hard worker, a born politician, and helps build, and becomes mayor of, an all-black town in Florida. But he puts Janie in the background, and once again she is “sittin’ on porches”. When Jody dies, he leaves her well-off, but she “aint’ grievin’ so why do Ah hafta mourn?” And then Tea Cake comes to town, a dozen years younger, dark-skinned, a gambler, a roustabout, a migrant worker, and she is off to the Everglades with him to build “no race after property and titles. Dis is uh love game”. They fight through jealousy, suspicion, hurricanes, illness.
My edition of this book has an afterword by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., in which he quotes Hurston describing her dying mother: "Her mouth was slightly open, but her breathing took up so much of her strength that she could not talk. But she looked at me, or so I felt, to speak for her. She depended on me for a voice".
I think, in some respects, that sums up this book. It's about choosing how your voice is heard, how the story of your life is told. And, oh, Hurston used such language to tell it! Southern black dialect, high poetry, soaring and swooping, there's not a page, not a paragraph in this book that doesn't hold a gem. I could open it anywhere, stab my finger on the page, and say, "listen to this!!".