“Unapologetic.” Uttered often, but how is it personified? In 1998, I learned – without knowing I’d learned. That year, my English teacher assigned us Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God”. It’s Southern dialect reminiscent of afternoon porch conversations amongst my great-grandmother and her friends. It’s metaphors as rich as the pound cake that accompanied them.
“Their Eyes…” was the first story of liberation that resonated with me. The first story that heralded unconventional love. After enduring two unfulfilling marriages, Janie, the novel’s protagonist, eventually finds love that offers freedom, happiness and equality; albeit in a younger man of lesser means. Groundbreaking in 1937. Zora couldn’t have written so vividly about it if she weren’t a revolutionary.
Janie describes this love to her friend, Phoeby: “Ah done been to tuh the horizon and back and now Ah kin set heah in mah house and live by comparisons.” The horizon. “Their Eyes…” introduced a barometer. A measuring stick. Laid out the sugar and the shit. Showed me that there were rewards to be reaped if you were unwilling to compromise. It was and remains unapologetic. So, today I salute Zora Neale Hurston. I salute her for daring to portray a free Black woman, for celebrating the authenticity of Black language and culture, for we could not survive without it; and for teaching me that magic lies in one’s ability to embrace all that is unique.