To Zora Neale Hurston,
I met you over twenty years ago before I learned that Alice Walker found you down in Florida, just a two hour drive from my hometown. I read about you through Janie, a woman both free and not free, self-discovered but also world-defined; and I wondered just how much of Janie was you. Maybe your eyes had also been watching God.
I thought of you often, about how you felt to be colored, how music wasn't just music to you, and how white patrons paid space for you to write while black men tried hard to control your just (w)right voice for reasons so hu(man)ly wrong. I thought about how you loved yourself laughing, taking a little bit of Eatonville into your soul--telling front porch stories and backyard barbecues in tongues that we have learned to hear with proper shame.
I read that piece you wrote in the Orlando Sentinel, that piece so many didn't understand. When you said integration wasn't for us--integration might change how America looked, but it wouldn't change how people felt, you said. I got what you meant Zora: what we "gained" can never make up for the community we lost. You saw it back in 1955 and I wish I could tell you that you were right.
You, Miss Zora, were extra special and deserved a better ending than being buried into obscurity. You took it upon yourself to define your black womanhood--not as other, as wrong, as less--but as something independent of what it means to be American white. You took Harlem by hurricane, left your marks with a bold pen and cleared a path so women from angelou to morrison to butler might guide others through.
You were your own person, Ms. Zora and I can but hope to stand at the edge of the light you left to shine. And I must say that I am so glad that when she went in search of her mother's gardens, Alice Walker returned with you. Resurrected. Redefined. Renewing another generation.
Much love and respect,