In Reading Women, the Cut talks to women who interest us about the books by women that transformed the way they think.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston is a book that I treasure. I was introduced to it by my younger sister Jina — she had an early interest in African-American literature and introduced me to many of the authors I read as a teenager.
I was 19 and a freshman at UCLA when I first read it. Zora Neale Hurston had a voice that really spoke to me: There was a freedom and independence that was embedded in the narrative. Starting my adult life, it was very formative to read of a heroine like Janie, who’s looking to remain authentic to herself in a society that has certain expectations. She had unusual choices about the way she wanted to live her life, the way she wanted to look, and she was able to find freedom for herself in what was a very contained culture at the time for black women.
It was a liberating experience to read a book about a liberated woman, and to see that the liberation of women in society is not something that comes easily. It’s hard-fought and there are consequences, but there are also triumphs. It’s a very complex, layered, nuanced narrative. I’ve read it again over the years, and it has deeper meaning as I mature. It’s always beautiful to come back to a book you hold dear and discover new secrets.
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