Their Eyes Were Watching God

Zora Neale Hurston

Illustrated by Diana Ejaita

Introduced by Zadie Smith

One of the defining African-American novels of the 20th century, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God is beautifully illustrated by Diana Ejaita in this striking Folio Society edition.

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‘There is no book more important to me than this one. It speaks to me as no novel, past or present, has ever done.’
  1. Alice Walker

Janie Mae Crawford’s been gone a long while, so tongues start wagging when she casually strolls back into town one evening. Her third husband is nowhere to be seen, but there’s more to Janie than first appearances imply. When her kissin-friend Phoeby arrives with a rice supper and a shoulder to cry on, Janie finds the strength to recount her journey. Set in rural Florida in the early 1900s, Hurston’s novel was heavily critiqued upon publication and went out of print for 30 years. Rediscovered and championed by Alice Walker, this beautifully written story attracted a rapt new audience when it was reissued in 1978; it went on to become one of the most celebrated African-American novels of the 20th century and is considered a modern classic. For this special collector’s edition, we commissioned illustrator Diana Ejaita to celebrate Janie’s journey of self-discovery with her bold and joyful artwork, which includes a vibrant slipcase design.

Bound in printed and blocked paper

Set in Garamond with Nidex display

232 pages

Frontispiece and 6 full-colour illustrations

Printed slipcase

8¾˝ x 5½˝

Nigerian-Italian illustrator and textile designer Diana Ejaita has captured the joy and sorrow of Janie’s search for love and identity in her graphic, contemporary paintings. There is an allegorical element to the artwork, which is fitting given Hurston’s academic explorations of African-American folklore. An acclaimed anthropologist as well as a novelist, Hurston switched between fiction and non-fiction for many years, becoming an inspirational figure in the Harlem Renaissance. Despite her talent and expertise, Hurston was living in poverty and obscurity at the time of her death, and it would be decades before she was appreciated as one of the great American writers. Her work has since influenced many authors, with Toni Morrison, Alice Walker and Bernadine Evaristo, among others, holding her in high esteem, while introducer Zadie Smith perfectly sums up her masterpiece as ‘a beautiful novel about soulfulness’.

The central theme of Hurston’s beautifully written novel is love and its inherent struggles, which initially caused some critics to judge the text harshly, as it didn’t adhere to the racial uplift ideology being championed by her Harlem Renaissance contemporaries. However, the Southern setting, the post-Civil War era and Hurston’s decision to use rich, regional dialogue meant that racial and social injustice are naturally woven into the narrative. Her characters’ lives are shaped by segregation and discrimination; misogyny adding to the women’s burden. So, while Janie’s search for true love is a joy to read, the novel also elevated female black voices in the literary canon. The rediscovery of her work decades later signalled a new and fresh appreciation of her writing.

She knew that God tore down the old world every evening and built a new one by sun-up. It was wonderful to see it take form with the sun and emerge from the gray dust of its making.

Married off to a local landowner at 16, before she could ‘hug and kiss and feel around with first one man and then another’, Janie refuses to trade stability for love. When her head is turned by dapper Jodie Stark she doesn’t look back, but it turns out that he has his own agenda and she must bide her time before finding her soulmate. Her patience pays off when Tea Cake walks into her life years later … has Janie finally found the happiness she craves?

Zora Neale Hurston (1891–1960) was a novelist and folklorist, a central figure in the Harlem Renaissance and one of the major American writers of the 20th-century. She spent most of her childhood in Eatonville, Florida, and studied anthropology at Howard University in Washington, DC and Barnard College in New York, where she was the sole Black student. Hurston pursued lifelong interests in African-American folklore, hoodoo and music, carrying out ethnographic research across the South of the United States and the Caribbean. She collected hundreds of folk tales, which deeply influenced her own writing, including Their Eyes Were Watching God. Alongside her writing and research, Hurston taught drama at what was then the North Carolina College for Negroes. Hurston’s writing was neglected in her lifetime and she died in poverty; her grave was unmarked until the novelist Alice Walker located it in 1972. Since then Hurston’s reputation has been reassessed and she is internationally renowned as a key figure in African-American literature.

Diana Ejaita is a Nigerian-Italian illustrator born in Cremona, northern Italy. She studied in France and Germany and now divides her time between studios in Berlin and Lagos. Her previous commissions include cover art for The New Yorker and a Google Doodle. In her work she often explores African culture, particularly textile traditions and questions of post-colonial identity. Ejaita also runs the fashion label WearYourMask, which she founded in 2014, and her designs have been exhibited at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Berlin, the Zurich Design Biennale and venues across Germany, Senegal and Nigeria.

Zadie Smith’s first novel, White Teeth (2000), was written while she was still studying English literature at King’s College, Cambridge and immediately became a major success, winning many awards including the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Guardian First Book Award. Her subsequent novels include On Beauty, NW and the Booker longlisted Swing Time; they have been widely acclaimed for their acute understanding of race, class and life in contemporary London and the United States. Smith’s essays for The New Yorker and elsewhere have been collected, most recently in the volume Feel Free. She is a professor of creative writing at New York University and a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.


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