The Big Read Blog (Archive)

Reading Into Eatonville

Washington, DC

Photo of Zora Neale Hurston by Carl Van Vechten, Library of Congress

In honor of Black History Month, we're paying homage to Zora Neale Hurston, whose novels remain some of the richest narratives of 20th-century black culture. In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston draws upon her own childhood in Eatonville, Florida, to describe the town's founding from the perspective of Janie Crawford. Located just outside Orlando, Eatonville was the country's first all-black town to incorporate, and has sealed its place both in history and literature. The town hosts the Zora Neale Hurston Festival on the Arts and Humanities each January to celebrate its most famous former resident.

In our Big Read audio guide, Hurston biographer Robert Hemenway describes the author's experiences in Eatonville, an account which readers will see reflected in the pages of Their Eyes Were Watching God:

Hurston grew up in Eatonville, which was an all-black town. She made a point that it wasn't the black backside of a white town, it was an all black town. And Hurston, I think, took on the security of that environment. Eatonville was a place where people could go down to the general store, Joe Clarke's general store, and sit around on nail kegs and benches, and as she put it, "pass this world and the next through their mouths." They created, she once said, "crayon enlargements of life."

To hear the entire Their Eyes Were Watching God audio guide, or to read the transcript, please visit The Big Read website.

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