NEA Big Read
Their Eyes Were Watching God

Their Eyes Were Watching God

by Zora Neale Hurston

The wind came back with triple fury, and put out the light for the last timeā€¦ They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God.

Zora Neale Hurston, 1934 (Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library)

Actress Ruby Dee (1922-2014) was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and grew up in Harlem, New York. As a student at Hunter College, she made her Broadway debut with a walk-on part in South Pacific. She went on to appear in more than 100 plays, films, and television shows, including her Oscar-nominated role in American Gangster (2007). She played Nanny Crawford in the 2005 ABC television adaptation of Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Robert Hemenway wrote the first biography of Hurston, titled Zora Neale Hurston: A Literary Biography (1977). After earning his PhD in English from Kent State University in Ohio, he taught at the University of Kentucky and later, at the University of Wyoming. He served as Chancellor at the University of Kansas and professor of English.  After 14 years as Chancellor at the University of Kansas, Hemenway returned to teaching in 2009.

Carla Kaplan is the Davis Distinguished Professor of American Literature at Northeastern University. An admired Hurston scholar, she collected and edited more than 500 letters in Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters (2002). Kaplan also gathered some of Hurston's previously unpublished folklore in Every Tongue Got to Confess: Negro Folk-tales from the Gulf States (2001).

David Kipen is a freelance book critic and founder of Libros Schmibros, a lending library and used bookshop in Los Angeles. He is the former Director of National Reading Initiatives at the National Endowment for the Arts, where he oversaw The Big Read, and a former book critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. Kipen is author of The Schreiber Theory: A Radical Rewrite of American Film History (2006).

Bret Lott is the author of many books, including Jewel (1991), A Song I Knew By Heart (2004), and Dead Low Tide (2012). From 2004 until 2007, he was Editor of The Southern Review, while also teaching English at Louisiana State University. He teaches writing at the College of Charleston in Charleston, South Carolina.

Azar Nafisi is a professor at Johns Hopkins University. She taught literature at the University of Tehran in Iran, where she was later expelled from her position in 1981 for refusing to wear the mandatory Islamic veil. Her best-selling memoir, Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books (2003), chronicles her teaching of forbidden works of Western literature to a book club of former students. She left Iran for America in 1997. Her books include Things I've Been Silent About (2010) and The Republic of Imagination (2014).

With more than one hundred children's books to his credit, Jerry Pinkney has received many awards including a Caldecott Medal and the Coretta Scott King Award for illustration five times. He received an honorary degree from the Art Institute of Boston and is a member of the National Council on the Arts. In 1991, he illustrated a special edition of Their Eyes Were Watching God. In 2011, he was elected into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame.

Born in 1944 to Georgia sharecroppers, Alice Walker knew the world of Zora Neale Hurston firsthand. She is perhaps best known as the author of The Color Purple (1982), which won the Pulitzer Prize and an American Book Award. Her 1975 article "In Search of Zora Neale Hurston," originally published in Ms. Magazine, helped launch the Hurston revival that continues to this day. Her first book for children, Langston Hughes: American Poet, was reprinted in 2002. In 2011, she published The Chicken Chronicles.

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