Zora Neale Hurston and the power of language

I read Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God in my senior year of high school. From a literary point of view, I was not much of a fan. But as Irma McClaurin rightly says in her blog post on Savage Minds, the novel did provide a fascinating portrait of Southern Black culture in the 1930s. Unlike any writer before or since her, Hurston captured the voice of the rural South. And I do mean she quite literally captured their voice. Every line was meticulously written in the dialect of those people at that particular point in time. The pronunciation, the spelling, the diction, it was all there. I remember sitting in my bedroom, reading it aloud to myself, trying to say things like, “Don’t keer what it was, she could stop and say a few words with us… She de one been doin’ wrong” or “The worst thing Ah ever knowed her to do was taking a few years offa her age and dat ain’t never harmed nobody”. Trying to sound as close I could to the way those words might’ve originally been said was the best part of the book for me. That’s what really brought me into Hurston’s richly detailed world. That’s when I realized how big a part language plays in culture. Once I had their manner of speaking down, everything else began to fall into place.