Sunday, November 2, 2014

Transforming Vision: Alice Walker and Zora Neale Hurston

"More than a decade after Zora Neale Hurston died penniless in a Florida welfare home, Alice Walker made a pilgrimage to the town where the anthropologist and novelist had lived, and placed a monument on her unmarked grave. Posing as a niece of the all-but-forgotten writer, Walker gathered what information she could about Hurston’s youth and final years in the state. For Walker, this journey was an act of filial piety toward the writer whom, above all others, she considers her literary foremother.

As she refused to let weeds and neglect obliterate Hurston’s grave, so Walker has fought to win recognition for Hurston’s work. Of Hurston’s 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, Walker says that "it speaks to me as no novel, past or present, has ever done." That novel is only now receiving the wide reading and acclaim it deserves.

In Black Feminist Criticism: Perspectives on Black Women Writers, Barbara Christian points out that "a persistent and major theme throughout Afro-America women’s literature [is] our attempt to define and express our totality rather than being defined by others." In this attempt, Hurston was the pioneer in whose path black women writers of the ‘70s and ‘80s have followed. Though 45 years separate Their Eyes Were Watching God and The Color Purple, the two novels embody many similar concerns and methods, ones that characterize the black women’s literary tradition -- a tradition now in full flower through the work of such writers as Toni Morrison, Paule Marshall, Gloria Naylor, Toni Cade Bambara, Ntozake Shange and Audre Lorde.

Hurston and Walker reclaim two often territories: the language of black folk culture and the experience of uneducated rural southern women. They find in both a wisdom that can transform our communal relations and our spiritual lives. As Celie in The Color Purple says, referring to God: "If he ever listened to poor colored women the world would be a different place, I can tell you."

by Trudy Bush, published in CHRISTIAN CENTURY

Read the full article here.

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