Zora & Alice

Zora Neale Hurston and Alice Walker are two of the most influential Black women writers in the history of literature. There are millions of books sold, a dedicated legion of fans, an annual festival, and one coveted Pulitzer Prize between them. Most bibliophiles can’t imagine a complete collection without their works. But if it weren’t for Walker, Hurston’s words might not have reached the masses at all.

Hurston had been dead a little more than a decade when a friend gifted Walker Their Eyes Were Watching God. In 1973, Walker began researching voodoo practice by rural southern black women in the 1930s, which first alerted her to Mules and Men.

This research, combined with the gifting of Their Eyes Were Watching God, sparked Walker’s voyage to rediscover the anthropologist, folklorist and writer.

Walker scoured for scholarly research based on Hurston’s works and found nothing. So, she went on a quest to rediscover her literary foremother. Walker traveled to Hurston’s homestead of Eatonville, Fla., where she died in 1960. She wanted to learn more about the woman history had discarded, but instead, she initiated a revival. In an unparalleled act of love, Walker purchased a marker for Hurston’s grave. The first step toward resuscitating the Harlem Renaissance’s wordsmith works was to inscribe, “A Genius of the South: Novelist. Folklorist. Anthropologist.” on her tombstone.

Through research and interviews with those who were familiar with Hurston, “Walker reached through the mists of time, blew the dust away from the covers, and re-introduced Hurston’s work into American literature.” In academic and publishing circles, conversations about Hurston rekindled and almost instantaneously, “scholarship on Hurston flourished. By the 1990s, experts in black culture and art would proclaim Hurston, subject of nearly thirty books, ‘the most widely taught black woman writer in the canon of American literature.”

Almost all of Hurston’s significant works were reprinted and a biography titled Zora Neale Hurston: A Literary Biography was released.

Walker’s dedication to revitalizing universal interest in Hurston speaks to the love and devotion that exists between most black women writers. Walker’s allegiance to Hurston was mirrored in her relationships with Margaret Walker, June Jordan, Ntozake Shange and Audre Lorde among other women writers. Monthly saloons with black women writers led to the creation of Walker’s In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens, a collection of essays dedicated to other women scribes.

The posthumous kinship between Walker and Hurston exacerbates the need for women of color to develop sisterhoods around the world. The media depicts us as incapable of forming alliances without competition. We see this assumption reinforced through reality television programs and even the fashion world. Tyra Banks and Naomi Campbell were pitted against each other before they’d ever exchanged a word. K.Foxx and Angela Yee are engaged in a bitter radio war. Women shame each other through Instagram and spew vitriol through Twitter, but love must override the need to destroy.

The power of sisterhood was instilled in me at Bennett College, a historical black institution created to educate and celebrate women of color. Sisterhood was a foreign concept when I arrived on campus in January 2010.

I was raised in a matriarchal family, but I still had an aversion to friendships with women. I embodied the “I’d rather hang with men because women are treacherous” meme and forbade other women from invading that barrier. I had one female best friend and figured I’d fulfilled the “women friends” quota.

The women of Bennett College embraced me without hesitation. It was astounding to witness the welcoming spirit, kindness and grace of the campus. Women professors, administrators, students and janitorial workers were full of wisdom, dropping a kind word whenever I was downtrodden.

I was welcomed into a sister-circle of 10 women. We formed lifelong bonds as we uplifted each other during times of turmoil and chided each other when we fell short of our own expectations. Now we are all successful in our respective fields. We lead hectic lives, but still send encouraging group text-messages daily.

That is sisterhood. It is a force greater than accomplishments or competition because it is rooted in love.

Walker wrote in the forward for the rerelease of Hurston’s autobiography Dust Tracks on a Road:

“We are a people. A people who do not throw their geniuses away. And if they are thrown away, it is our duty as artists and as witnesses for the future to collect them again for the sake of our children, and if necessary, bone by bone.”

Replace people, geniuses and artists with sisters and repeat this manifesto.

We are sisters. Sisters who do not throw their sisters away. And if they are thrown away, it is our duty as sisters and as witnesses for the future to collect them again for the sake our children, and if necessary, bone by bone.

We must love our sisters enough to love and rebuke them, support and critique them. Sisterhood transcends industries, egos and accomplishments. It is one of the most powerful sources of love in the universe. Just ask Alice and Zora.

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  • jay cee

    Wonderful article about two great women. I Thank you, Evette. My granddaughter just graduated from Bennett, with two degrees, English and Theatre. She is also a Zora fan. She says going to Bennett was a wonderful experience.

    • http://evettedionne.com Evette Dionne

      Awesome Jay Cee! May I inquire as to who your granddaughter is? Please send her my love and regards.

  • Eduardo

    “The posthumous kinship between Walker and Hurston exacerbates the need for women of color to develop sisterhoods around the world. The media depicts us as incapable of forming alliances without competition. We see this assumption reinforced through reality television programs and even the fashion world. Tyra Banks and Naomi Campbell were pitted against each other before they’d ever exchanged a word. K.Foxx and Angela Yee are engaged in a radio war. Women shame each other through Instagram and spew vitriol through Twitter, but love must override the need to destroy.”

    Since my daughter was born I’ve been more interested in these issues, and I applaud this article for trying to contribute to a more positive environment so women don’t have to live in perpetual competition with each other. However, I’d like to know if Rebecca Walker’s statements don’t complicate things a bit. A posthumous kinship is after all a bit one-sided…

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  • cupcakes and shiraz

    There used to be a blog called Zora + Alice. I wonder whatever happened to it?

  • http://www.gradientlair.com Trudy

    This essay is exquisite and about two Black women that I admire so much. I learned about Alice’s work for Zora long ago and anytime I see anything about it, my heart warms. Thank you for this.

    Also, thank you for revealing a truth about yourself with “I was raised in a matriarchal family, but I still had an aversion to friendships with women. I embodied the ‘I’d rather hang with men because women are treacherous’ meme and forbade other women from invading that barrier. I had one female best friend and figured I’d fulfilled the ‘women friends’ quota.”

    If I am out of line here, let me know, but I would argue that your family was not matriarchal. Often times, Black families are viewed that way when women outnumber men as family members, when women are the primary breadwinners and when women are single parents. However, in those families, the physical absence of men does not mean the absence of patriarchal thinking is there. bell hooks elaborates on this in Understanding Patriarchy and Patricia Hill Collins elaborates on this in Black Feminist Thought. Patriarchal thinking and internalized sexism are why Black women sometimes adopt this “men are better friends” thing because they identify with those men’s sexist thoughts on women AND they are calloused towards other women even before an actual friendship can form. I am so glad you were embraced by women once you went to college though. And I love the final paragraph of this essay.

    Again, great essay. Love this. Will bookmark forever.

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