On the surface, Zora Neale Hurston may have appeared to embody a mass of contradictions, both personal and political; but as Edward Porter points out in Monday’s profile, in her work Hurston sought “to redefine herself in ways that were unhampered by race, gender, time, and place.” And, as the following quotes from her novels and writings reveal, she was above all consistent in this—whatever she wrote, regardless of the reactions her words might incite, she remained true to herself.
“There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you.” —Dust Tracks on a Road (autobiography, 1942)
“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” —Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)
“I don’t know any more about the future than you do. I hope that it will be full of work, because I have come to know by experience that work is the nearest thing to happiness that I can find. No matter what else I have among the things that humans want, I go to pieces in a short while if I do not work. What all my work shall be, I don’t know that either, every hour being a stranger to you until you live it. I want a busy life, a just mind and a timely death.” —Dust Tracks on a Road
“I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all… Even in the helter-skelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less. No, I do not weep at the world—I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.” —Dust Tracks on a Road
“Slavery is the price I paid for civilization, and the choice was not with me. It is a bully adventure and worth all that I have paid through my ancestors for it. No one on earth ever had a greater chance for glory. The world to be won and nothing to be lost. It is thrilling to think—to know that for any act of mine, I shall get twice as much praise or twice as much blame. It is quite exciting to hold the center of the national stage, with the spectators not knowing whether to laugh or to weep.
The position of my white neighbor is much more difficult. No brown specter pulls up a chair beside me when I sit down to eat. No dark ghost thrusts its leg against mine in bed. The game of keeping what one has is never so exciting as the game of getting.” —“How It Feels To Be Colored Me” (1928)
“I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.
For instance at Barnard. ‘Beside the waters of the Hudson’ I feel my race. Among the thousand white persons, I am a dark rock surged upon, and overswept, but through it all, I remain myself. When covered by the waters, I am; and the ebb but reveals me again.” —“How It Feels to Be Colored Me”
“She found that she had a host of thought she had never expressed to him, and numerous emotions she had never let Jody know about. Things packed up and put away in parts of her heart where he could never find them. She was saving up feelings for some man she had never seen. She had an inside and an outside now and suddenly she knew not how to mix them.” —Their Eyes Were Watching God
“I will fight for my country, but I will not lie for her.” —Dust Tracks on a Road
“These do be times that take all you have to scrape up a decent laugh or so. I do not refer to the battlefields, but to this enormous pest of hate that is rotting men’s souls. When will people learn that you cannot quarantine hate? Once it gets loose in the world, it rides over all barriers and seeps under the doors an in the cracks of every house… I am not talking of race hatred. Just hate. Everybody is at it… It makes me very unhappy. I am all wrong in this vengeful world. I will to love.” —from a 1944 letter to Benjamin Botkin
“I have known the joy and pain of friendship. I have served and been served. I have made some good enemies for which I am not a bit sorry. I have loved unselfishly, and I have fondled hatred with the red-hot tongs of Hell. That’s living.” —Dust Tracks on a Road
“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 1943 letter to Countee Cullen
“Mama exhorted her children at every opportunity to ‘jump at the sun.’ We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground.” —Dust Tracks on a Road
Click here to read Edward Porter’s feature piece on Zora Neale Hurston.
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