Their Eyes Were Watching God Zora Neale Hurston and the Harlem Renaissance

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  • Their Eyes Were Watching GodZora Neale Hurston and the Harlem Renaissance

  • The Harlem Renaissance1920s and 1930sFirst time mainstream publishers and critics took African American literature seriouslyBeyond literature, encompassedMusicTheaterArtPolitics

  • The Great MigrationPost Civil WarMovement of blacks from economically depressed South to industrial NorthMore educated and socially conscious African Americans moved to Harlem (NYC)

  • The Great Migrationby Jacob LawrencePyramid shape shows sense of communityTaking home with them (box)Community paralleled to flock

  • Common Themes: Alienation, marginality, use of folk material, use of blues tradition, problems for writing for an elite audience.

  • Post World War IOpenness to literature and changeSophisticated New Yorkers, black and white drawn to Harlem for music and nightlifeStimulated national market for African American literature and music

  • The music: jazzEmerging musicians:Bessie SmithJelly Roll MartinLouis ArmstrongDuke Ellington

  • Fire!Literary magazine in HarlemFirst published 1926Publishers:Langston HughesZora Neale HurstonWallace Thurmon

  • Art from all genres (visual arts, literature, music) appealed to mixed audiences but relied on white publishing houses.

  • Ending of Harlem RenaissanceGreat Depression (economic pressure)Growing feeling by some artists that art should be politically motivated; that is, should highlight African American issues such as segregation and racism.

  • Major Accomplishment ofHarlem Renaissance:Proved that the white race did not have a monopoly on literature and culture in America

  • Zora Neale HurstonBorn 1891As a child moved to Eatonville, Florida (1st all-black incorporated town in AmericaFather served several terms as mayorAttended Howard UniversityPublished 1st story in 1921 (age 30)

  • Moved to Harlem 1925Became significant figure in Harlem RenaissancePrimary publisher of Fire!Enrolled in Barnard College and studied anthropology (study of man) under Franz Boas (greatest anthropologist of 20th Century)

  • Two greatest influences on writing:Living in Eatonville (largely sheltered from racial prejudice most African Americans experienced else where)Study of anthropology: the study of humankind in all its aspects, especially human culture or human development

  • Their Eyes Were Watching GodPublished in 1937 (Hurston age 46, Janie age 40; Hurston had difficulty with relationships: two marriages, one with a much younger man )Technically after HR, but associated with that time periodWell received by white critics as intimate portrait of southern blacks; however, notable black authors thought it was stereotyping the black race as happy go lucky and ignorant.

  • Social RealismThought art should be political and expose social injusticesDismissed Harlem Renaissance authors as devoid of political contentRichard Wright (African American author) wrote a scathing review of Eyes:Dialect portrayed blacks negativelyContent failed to address timely social injustices such as segregation and racism

  • Hurston focus was not on racism, but on feminism. (Most male authors did not support her.)Childhood in Eatonville vastly void of racism (all black community)Hurston wanted to focus on the celebration of speech and the traditions of black people.

  • Hurstons last days1950s fell into obscurityCould not get work publishedEmployment as a maidHad stroke; moved to welfare homeJanuary 28th , 1960 died penniless; buried in unmarked graveAuthor Alice Walker read work and appreciated; decided to find grave; found and marked with phrase A genius of the South.


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