Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Written in 1937, and praised by white book reviewers for being a "rich and racy love story, if somewhat awkward" and criticized by black critics for not writing fiction in the protest tradition. The most influential black writer of the time, Richard Wright wrote that Hurston's book did for literature what the minstrel shows did for theater, it made white folks laugh at black folks. Throughout the 1940s & 50s "Their Eyes Were Watching God" was all but forgotten, slipping out of print because of Wright's influence. However, somewhere around 1968 "Their Eyes.." began appearing in black bookstores across the country. What appealed to most Africian American women discovering "Their Eyes.." for the first time, was the compelling figure of the books heroine, Janie Crawford as a powerful, articulate, self-reliant, and radically different from any woman character in black literature. Here was a woman on a quest for her own identity, whose journey would take her, not away from, but deeper and deeper into immersion of her black tradition. By 1971, "Their Eyes Were Watching God" was an underground phenomenon and that by 1977 when the MLA Commission on Minority Groups and the Study of Language and Literature published its first list of out of print book most in demand across the nation, "Their Eyes..." topped the list. The background of how this book has become a classic, and the journey it has taken is almost as fascinating as the novel itself. Sadly, Zola Neale Hurston died in 1960 never realizing how popular her book would become one day.