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Zora Neale Hurston on Love and Life

Zora Neale Hurston’s name is synonymous with the Harlem Renaissance, ​​a cultural blossoming of Black American music, art, and literature in the 1920s and '30s. An acclaimed writer and anthropologist, Hurston is best known for her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, now considered a classic of American literature.

Born in Notasulga, Alabama, in 1891, Hurston’s early childhood was one of constant movement and change. Her father, a pastor, moved the family to Eatonville, Florida, when she was three, and her mother died about 10 years after that. When her father remarried, Hurston was sent to live with different relatives, but Eatonville always felt like home to the writer, and it became the setting for many of her stories later on in life.

Throughout her career, Hurston’s writing centered the lives of Black people, often employing African American and Caribbean folklore in her writing. She wanted to portray her characters living lives full of joy, nuance, and ordinariness. In addition to writing books such as her 1934 debut novel, Jonah’s Gourd Vine, and her 1935 short story collection, Mules and Men, Hurston also penned plays and traveled to Jamaica and Haiti to conduct anthropological research for her writing..

In her lifetime, Hurston was often criticized by other Harlem Renaissance artists for catering to a predominantly white audience, for opposing integration, and for not being as outspoken as some of her peers when it came to issues of racial justice. Yet today, Hurston is heralded as a literary icon who made great strides for Black writers in the United States, always advocating for more visibility for Black creatives. Here, we’ve rounded up 13 poignant quotes from the writer across a wide range of topics, from spirituality to love and what it really means to be a Black woman in America.

Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.

There are years that ask questions and years that answer.
— "Their Eyes Were Watching God"

Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose. It is a seeking that he who wishes may know the cosmic secrets of the world and they that dwell therein.

Those that don’t got it, can’t show it. Those that got it, can’t hide it.
— "Dust Tracks on a Road"

The present was an egg laid by the past that had the future inside its shell.

Love is like the sea. It’s a moving thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from the shore it meets, and it’s different with every shore.
— "Their Eyes Were Watching God"

It seems to me that trying to live without friends is like milking a bear to get cream for your morning coffee. It is a whole lot of trouble, and then not worth much after you get it.

Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.
— "How It Feels to Be Colored Me"

​​I belong to no race nor time. I am the eternal feminine with its string of beads.
— "How It Feels to Be Colored Me"

I have the nerve to walk my own way, however hard, in my search for reality, rather than climb upon the rattling wagon of wishful illusions.
— From a letter to Countee Cullen

There are two things everybody got to find out for themselves. They got to find out about love and they got to find out about living.
— "Their Eyes Were Watching God"

A thing is mighty big when time and distance cannot shrink it.

Such as I am, I am a precious gift.

Photo credit: Everett Collection Historical/ Alamy Stock Photo

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About the Author
Joyce Chen
Joyce Chen is a writer, editor, and community builder based in Seattle, Washington.
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