The Harlem Renaissance, one of my favorite periods in art history, was a flowering of African American art and culture in the early 1900's. So when the opportunity arose to research this movement for an art history class, I was excited to delve deeper and learn more about it. I immersed myself in the poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks and Langston Hughes, the art of Elizabeth Catlett and Charles White, and listened to such jazz greats as Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong.
Zora Neale Hurston, a writer, folklorist and anthropologist, quickly captivated me. Hurston is best known for her novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God. It was written in 1937, when African American women novelists were few and far between, and African American female heroines, exceedingly rare.
The novel chronicles the life of Janie Crawford and her ongoing search for identity, from youth to middle age, and through three difficult marriages. Janie grew up in the early 1900's, during a time when men dominated women and a woman was supposed to know her proper place. She was brought up by her grandmother, Nanny, a former slave who wanted her to marry an older man and have the security and protection in life that she never had. After many trials and tribulations, Janie becomes determined to chart her own course and control her destiny. She is transformed from a voiceless girl to a woman who knows her own worth.
As Janie tells her friend Phoeby, "There is two things everybody got to find out for theirselves. They got to find out about love and they got to find out about living.”
― Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God