Their Eyes Were Watching God: Celebrating 75 Years

I first read Their Eyes Were Watching God a little over five years ago, and a month later, I enlisted a friend of mine for a trip Eatonville, Florida, the one-strip town (population 2,272) outside of Kissimmee that Zora Neale Hurston called home during adolescence. After 110 years, very few of the original structures remain of the time Hurston walked those streets, but faded historical markers guide you toward landmarks, like Hurston’s family home site and the buildings her father worked from as Mayor of the town.

The goal of my journey to mecca: Talk to someone — a classmate, a neighbor, a kid she may have babysat — who remembered Hurston outside the history books. Yes, it was a pretty lofty goal, given that at the time of my visit, anyone who knew Hurston during her time in Eatonville would likely be well over 100 years old.  During that short trip, I mostly met 50- and 60-somethings who primarily experienced Hurston through their readings in schools and libraries, from vague family stories of Hurston’s father, or by way of the same dusty street markers I followed that day. Still, I couldn’t help but be satisfied by simply strolling through a piece of Hurston’s history.

Eatonville paid homage to Hurston in 2004 by opening the Zora Neale Hurston Library, and her legacy is celebrated each year at the Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities. But the legacy of the town and of its notable resident further live on in Hurston’s novel, where Eatonville’s establishment is recounted through protagonist Janie’s fictional history.

This week, to kick off Women’s History Month, I’m loving every minute rereading Their Eyes Were Watching God, a golden nugget in the American canon for which we have Alice Walker to thank. But as the novel celebrates 75 years since its original publication in 1937, it still packs a punch with readers, scholars and, soon, radio listeners.

A work of fiction heralded for its language and lyricism, it seems only natural that The Jerome L. Greene Performance Space at WNYC and WQXR would bring Their Eyes Were Watching God to radio. Directed by Ruban Santiago-Hudson (Seven Guitars, Stickfly), the radio play stars Tony Award Winners Leslie Uggams (Hallelujah, Baby!; Thoroughly Modern Millie) as Grandmother and Chuck Cooper (The Life; Caroline, or Change) as Joe Starks, with original music by blues master Bill Sims, Jr. And did I mention that it’s being narrated by the lovely Phylicia Rashad?

Visitors were invited to the live performance of the radio play last week, which you can watch here, and the full broadcast is scheduled for September. But if you can’t wait that long for a Hurston meditation, check out the rest of The Greenspace’s multi-platform exploration of the novel:

  • March 14 at 6:00 p.m. – A music and literary salon featuring music and readings by award-winning actor and poet Carl Hancock Rux and singers Toshi Reagon, Nona Hendryx, Martha Redbone, Marcelle Lashley and Kimberly Nichole.
  • March 28 at 7:00 p.m. – Women Writers on the Horizion, a panel discussion with Alice Walker, Sonia Sanchez, and Ruby Dee that will be moderated by Hurston’s niece, Lucy Anne Hurston.

Click here for tickets to both of these events — and tell us your favorite scenes and quotes from Their Eyes Were Watching God in the comments.


  1. Nancy Weber says

    I just remember the night that you and I sat around late in the office trying to come up with a name for the blog. We went over so many ZNH quotes because they were all so great. Wonderful post Rose!