Zora Neale Hurston wrote her most famous novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, while in Haiti on a trip funded by a Guggenheim fellowship to research the region’s transatlantic folk and religious culture; this work grounded what would become her ethnography Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica. The essays in Zora Neale Hurston, Haiti, and “Their Eyes Were Watching God” persuasively demonstrate that Hurston’s study of Haitian Voudoun informed the characterization, plotting, symbolism, and theme of her novel. Much in the way that Voudoun and its North American derivative Voodoo are syncretic religions, Hurston’s fiction enacts a syncretic, performative practice of reference, freely drawing upon Greco-Roman, Judeo-Christian, and Haitian Voudoun mythologies for its political, aesthetic, and philosophical underpinnings. Zora Neale Hurston, Haiti, and “Their Eyes Were Watching God” connects Hurston’s work more firmly to the cultural and religious flows of the African diaspora and to the literary practice by twentieth-century American writers of subscripting in their fictional texts symbols and beliefs drawn from West and Central African religions.
La Vinia Delois Jennings is Lindsay Young Professor of English at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
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