Happy Birthday, Zora

My sister is 12 years older than I. When she left for college I was only a six year-old scrappy baby, running around, collecting clues for the endless detective game that I played in my mind, making nasty little cakes out of mud and dandelions. We lived in one of those huge, three-storey historical townhouses in downtown Baltimore. All red brick, huge blacksmith’s fireplace, and a dark, creepy, unfinished basement. Curiosity killed me. I was forbade from going down in the basement by myself. I thought,

“There must be dragons, monsters and a vampire living down there.”

But see, I was a kid full of whimsy. The dark and terrifying didn’t scare me. In my mind I could turn those monsters into friends. So of course, one summer afternoon when everyone was napping, I crept my little self down the basement steps and clicked on the light. As I’m sure you know, I didn’t find dragons, I found something infinitely better; my sister’s treasure-trove of books. All this beautiful, high school assigned reading was stretched before me on make-shift bookshelves.

I saw Jazz by Toni Morrison, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, and Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. There were more of course, but Hurston’s book stood out to me… For it’s colorful cover, and for the word “God” in the title. See, I thought taking this book would get me in the least trouble. My parents were (and are) devout christians, part time missionaries. I was saved from the womb. 

So I took this book, crept back upstairs, and jumped in bed. I cracked it open and let me tell you, I couldn’t understand practically any of Zora’s stylistic dialect but I tried. I knew there was something special and significant in that book so I read every other word I could understand. Their Eyes Were Watching God was like my secret baby bible. I kept watch over it like it was an appendage, until I could understand every word. That wasn’t until 10 years later of course, but finally understanding it was like receiving my doctorate in diligence. 

January 7, 1891 – January 28, 1960

Zora, I adore you. Born in the small southern town of Notasulga, Alabama – raised in Eatonville, Florida.

Spirited, creative, a woman ahead of her time. The embodiment of literary bravery, a face of the Harlem Renaissance. Her writing was whimsical, witty, sweeping, a sensory overload, able to paint pictures in the mind’s eye, but leaving enough to the imagination where each individual could create their own depiction.

A Black woman, misunderstood by her contemporaries, but who’s legacy was resurrected and celebrated in her death. Her literary works live on in legend. 

“I have been in Sorrow’s kitchen and licked out all the pots. Then I have stood on the peaky mountain wrapped in rainbows, with a harp and sword in my hands.”