Happy Birthday Zora Neale Hurston
By: Eris Zion Venia Dyson
A letter to my future daughter…
Dear Zora Venia,
The year is 2014, and it’s Zora Neale Hurston’s 123rd Birthday. As a cultural critic, playwright, and poet, Hurston was and still is the epitome of radical self love. A love that is difficult, not always pretty, but always beautiful. Hurston gifted light to a space of America that was often deemed too treacherous to explore.
Posthumously, Zora continues to say the things that we often don’t have the courage to conjure up and let slip from our lips. Her relevance in this “post-racial” society is even more crucial than ever. I, as a writer often times find me having a revolutionary thought or feeling, and come to the realization that it was something I read and ingested from Hurston. In her time on this earth, she covered so much ground; from friendship, to faith, to fascism.
My mother, your grandmother (who’s middle name you also have), named me Eris. This name, in Greek mythology, is the goddess of strife and discord. I resented that name for so long, before I realized that my name had extreme power, and strife wasn’t who I was, but it was what I endured. I knew then that I wanted to be intentional about what name I would gift my legacy.
In a letter Zora wrote to Countee Cullen in 1943, she said “I have never liked stale phrases and bodyless courage. I have the nerve to walk my own way, however hard, in my search for reality, rather than climb upon the rattling wagon of wishful illusions.” And that’s what I spend my days doing… finding my nerve to walk my path, no matter how difficult. I encourage you to do the same.
What made her timeless was her ability to use “plain speak” to say what she meant, in a way that was accessible to all people no matter who you were. Her words resonate in the deepest corners of our beings. Corners that we long forgot could be occupied. Zora shows up in bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Ntozake Shange, and undoubtedly Alice Walker. She is at the base of my literary family tree.
I gave you the name Zora because I wanted her ancestral fire to dwell in your soul… I wanted you to know that no matter what history books may say, that we as black women are the Original Woman, and that often times the courage of our voices is scrubbed from history, but no matter how many times we’re erased, we are rewritten over and over again. I gave you the name Zora to know that you can write and rewrite your life however you choose to see it and be it.
I gave you this name so you knew that you had permission to never ask for permission.
Below are just a few quotes that have carried me through that I want you to internalize and know… Zora Neale Hurston will always be the soil in which Black Girl Poets & Writers sprout from, and no matter the path you chose to journey, know that you are cut from this cloth. That you are powerful, loved, gifted, beautiful, and black.
Zora on prejudice and discrimination… “Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.”
Zora on patience and understanding… “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”
Zora on friendship and sisterhood… “I have known the joy and pain of friendship. I have served and been served. I have made some good enemies for which I am not a bit sorry. I have loved unselfishly, and I have fondled hatred with the red-hot tongs of Hell. That’s living.”
Zora on good love… “Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.”
Zora on truth and pain… “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”
Zora on self love at all times… “I love myself when I am laughing. . . and then again when I am looking mean and impressive.”
Zora on benevolence and service… “There is nothing to make you like other human beings so much as doing things for them.”
Zora on patriotism… “I will fight for my country, but I will not lie for her.”
Zora on truth… “Those that don’t got it, can’t show it. Those that got it, can’t hide it.”
Zora on… well… being bad ass… “You heard me. You ain’t blind.”
Eris a.k.a. Mother, Ma, Mama… or whatever you’ll end up calling me. <3