On this day, 121 years ago, Zora Neale Hurston was born in Alabama. She would go on to create some of the most memorable, incandescent, truthful prose any American writer has ever set on paper. She would inspire and teach, through her art, generations of writers. She is the example of how to write the bare truth on the page without apologies.
I learned of her birthday today, shamefully, on Facebook and I couldn’t let this day pass without writing something on my blog about her. She is one of the voices that helped me with my thesis and I owe her a great deal of gratitude.
So how did Ms. Hurston help? With the second paragraph of Their Eyes Were Watching God.
“Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.”
The dream is the truth. The dream is the truth. These five words rocked my world. Let me explain.
I read Hurston at the beginning of my MFA program. In fact, she was in the first pile of required reading. When I started the program, I was lost. I sought the voice that went away when my dad passed away. I know now that part of that journey to find my voice was to find the truth, face it, embrace it, and soak it in.
The dream is the truth.
My dream at the time was to be okay, to find some calm in the middle of the storm I had gotten myself into. I had lived myself into a corner because I did everything I was suppose to do. I wasn’t happy. I lost a large piece of who I was and what was left was rapidly decaying. I wanted a peace that I only found on the page, in worlds created by my pen where no one could tell me what to do.
My dream, my truth, lives in the written word. Hurston gave me permission to believe it, face it, embrace it, and soak it in.
That was how this part of my journey started and she was there with me, along with Clarice Lispector. Eventually we picked up others— Cristina Garcia, Isabel Allende, Gabo, Chandler, Mosley, Green, Danticat, and so many others. These writers encouraged and taught and, above all, gave me permission to be just who I was. They were my breaths in an airless tank. I survived and I am because they were.
Hurston was the first burst of fresh air.
So, on this 121st birthday, I say thank you, but not to Hurston, an African American writer or woman writer. To Hurston, the writer. Gracias.