Zora Neale Hurston Best Books 📚

A larger percentage of Zora Neale Hurston’s fame and popularity comes from her books, specifically novels, but a substantial fragment also comes from her courageous political stance and eventual influence on America’s civil rights movement.

Zora Neale Hurston

(1891-1960), American

Among the several books written by Hurston, ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ becomes the book receiving the most acclaim, yet this doesn’t happen during her lifetime but after several years of her passing. In a career spanning over thirty years, Hurston completed four novels, several short stories, poems, essays, and articles. The best books written by Zora Neale Hurston will be analyzed.

Their Eyes Were Watching God 

Zora Neale Hurston’s greatest work, ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ is a known classic of the Harlem Renaissance which follows the story of Janie Crawford, a young African American girl, her journey to maturity into a courageous woman, her search for love and independence, and her resolve to changing a bleak narrative of women rights in her society. 

Hurston sets the book in Florida, with Eatonville – an all-black community – playing a predominant geographical role. The book’s plot tells the story of Janie, daughter of Leafy who abandons her, and granddaughter of Nanny, a slave who had suffered too much from war to slavery to abuse, and dehumanization.

Aware of the cruelty of life and particularly how hard it is for women, Nanny is determined to protect Janie from all of that. When Janie comes of age and is in danger of being sexually exploited, she hands her marriage to Logan killicks, but Janie who desires freedom to pursue her personal dreams soon realizes he’s not the kind of man to give her that. 

Janie forces an end to the marriage and thus begins a search for what she truly cares about; true love and independence. She goes through two more marriages – one with Joe Starks, and the other with Tea Cake, a much younger partner but whom in fact she ends up finding what she was looking for all along, although their union is far from being a ‘happy ever after’ kind of marriage. 

Throughout the book, Hurston reinstates why Janie is such an important character, and this is very easily seen in the ways that she stands up against hatred for women, domestic abuse, negative gender roles, and all forms of discrimination against women. 

The book was released in 1937 but didn’t make a substantial wave because at the time Hurston had had a falling out with top stakeholders in the industry – both from the white and black races. 

With her exploits and works forgotten, it took the intervention of another young African American writer by the name of Alice Walker to bring back interest in the life and works of Zora Neale Hurston, and ever since then, her books have gone on to be reprinted and won several accolades – including being a Harlem Renaissance classic, and also making the list of the 20th century’s top 100 books written in the English language. 

Jonah’s Gourd Vine 

Zora Neale Hurston drew inspiration from her parents’ marriage to write this one back in 1934. The book became the author’s first novel and even came with its main characters bearing the real first names of the author’s parents. 

For the plot, just like Hurston’s father, John in the book is a preacher who has a loving wife, Lucy but is too distracted by the many interests outside of his marriage – including the conniving character Hattie who appears to use a hoodoo spell on him. 

While John successfully preaches the word in the open every Sunday to a large congregation of believers who love him, his womanizing exploits still haunt him. This happens so frequently so badly that one day he decides to confess this to the public. Although crude and leaving much to be desired, the book appears decent, especially in the morals that it instills, as part of Hurston’s intent was to portray how untrusting and unpredictable people can be.

Barracoon

This book was written off the pen of exciting author Zora Neale Hurston based on her research of the history and chronicles of the Atlantic slave trade era. 

The book is a biography of one of the last known survivors of the Atlantic crossing from Africa to America, Cudjo Lewis, an African American who was among a hundred-plus people captured from Africa and shipped to Mobile, Alabama. 

Hurston had written the book in 1931 but faced issues with publishing because she failed to cooperate with the publisher’s request to refine the work in terms of the vernacular used and also some of the claims in the book. It was later published in 2018, several decades after Hurston’s death. 

Moses, Man of the Mountain

As the name suggests, the book is based on the biblical adventure of Moses and the Israeli – including their journey to the promised land from Egypt. 

The book was published in 1939, two years after the release of her best novel ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God.’ Hurston’s ‘Moses, Man of the Mountain’ has a similar plot to that of the scriptural book of Exodus and the other Books of Moses – only with an Afro-American touch to it. 

While some critics view the book as lacking any real substance, others praised the book’s symbolic brilliance – viewing it as a perfect metaphor for the experiences of African Americans. 

Seraph on the Suwanee 

Published in 1948 by Scribner’s publishers, ‘Seraph of the Suwanee’ is popular as Zora Neale Hurston’s only novel that is based on southern whites, which draws a stark difference as the majority of her books are based on the history and culture of black African Americans. 

Part of what forced Hurston’s creation of this book was the fact that several of her works were rejected by publishers because they were based on black characters. Wanting so badly to get published, the author decided to explore something of white characters – and that’s how she went on and studied the history and culture of Floridian ‘White Crackers’ and wrote a book about it. 

The book’s plot is made up of majorly white characters and comes off as being sexually provocative. Reception for the book – especially among the black community – was largely scathing and critical. ‘Seraph of the Suwanee’ became Hurston’s last published book, and it opened up a number of sexual abuse allegations, events which would subsequently lead to the demise of her literary career.

Mules and Men 

In the early 1930s, Zora Neale Hurston traveled to her native Eatonville, Florida, to cover substantial aspects of the community’s rich, black heritage – including its folklore and vernacular traditions. Later, the author took a trip to New Orleans to record the Afro-cultural heritage of voodoo and hoodoo. 

Mules and Men’ became the product of such trips – retelling more than seventy unique folkloric heritage of black people living across America at the time. 

Hurston’s ‘Mules and Men’ follows a story with deep symbolic meanings – sometimes even satirical – and based on the experiences of black people. Themes in ‘Mules and Men’ are mostly about white-on-black oppression, slavery, discrimination, and dehumanization.

FAQs 

How many books did Zora Neale Hurston publish?

By the end of her career, Zora Neale Hurston had published several works – in plays, novels, short stories, research essays, articles, and biographies. Hurston also left a large amount of her work unpublished works which was later published several years later after her death. 

What book is Zora Neale Hurston’s best book?

Although works like ‘Mule Bone’ and ‘Moses, Man of the Mountain’ are very popular and influential, when the name Zora Neale Hurston comes to mind, ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ is easily the book that pops up. 

How was Zora Neale Hurston’s ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ received?

As powerful as ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ is today, the book performed very poorly after it was published in 1937, and this was mostly because the author had a falling out – both in ideas and personality – with top industry stakeholders and publishers.

What book is similar to ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ by Zora Neale Hurston?

Alice Walker’s ‘The Color Purple’ is one book that has a striking resemblance to ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ by Zora Neale Hurston in terms of impact and moral lessons.

Victor Onuorah
About Victor Onuorah
Victor is as much a prolific writer as he is an avid reader. With a degree in Journalism, he goes around scouring literary storehouses and archives; picking up, dusting the dirt off, and leaving clean even the most crooked pieces of literature all with the skill of analysis.
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