Zora Neale Hurston was born on January 7, 1891.
An acclaimed researcher, anthropologist, and writer, she was a paramount voice of her generation, and her words resonate powerfully today. The author of four novels, including Their Eyes Were Watching God, her work is associated closely with the Harlem Renaissance, and her research—focused on Haitian Voodoo and Southern African American folklore—was fundamental to shaping modern anthropological perspectives.
She was widely dismissed by the literary establishment of her time, but today she's recognized as one of the greatest writers in American history.
In celebration of this amazing woman, here are some of her many extraordinary quotes.
1. "I have been in Sorrow's kitchen and licked out all the pots. Then I have stood on the peaky mountain wrapped in rainbows, with a harp and sword in my hands."
2. "Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can anyone deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It's beyond me."
3. "I do not weep at the world—I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife."
4. "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."
5. "I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all."
6. "Prayer seems to me a cry of weakness, and an attempt to avoid, by trickery, the rules of the game as laid down. I do not choose to admit weakness. I accept the challenge of responsibility."
7. "If you are silent about your pain, they'll kill you and say you enjoyed it."
8. "It is hard to apply oneself to study when there is no money to pay for food and lodging. I almost never explain these things when folks are asking me why I don't do this or that."
9. "I will fight for my country, but I will not lie for her."
10. "Colonialism and race is at the bottom of the whole thing. So long as we support England and France in their colonial policies in Asia, so long shall our young men die over there."
11. "Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose. It is a seeking that he who wishes may know the cosmic secrets of the world and they that dwell therein."
12. "She didn't read books so she didn't know that she was the world and the heavens boiled down to a drop."
13. "Everybody has some special road of thought along which they travel when they are alone to themselves. And his road of thought is what makes every man what he is."
14. "There is a basin in the mind where words float around on thought and thought on sound and sight. Then there is a depth of thought untouched by words, and deeper still a gulf of formless feelings untouched by thought."
15. "Happiness is nothing but everyday living seen through a veil."
16. "I love myself when I am laughing. And then again when I am looking mean and impressive."
17. "Mama exhorted her children at every opportunity to 'jump at de sun.' We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground."
18. "It is one of the blessings of this world that few people see visions and dream dreams."
19. "Trees and plants always look like the people they live with, somehow."
20. "...It grew upon me that I ought to walk out to the horizon and see what the end of the world was like."
21. "It's no use of talking unless people understand what you say."
22. "Anytime you catch folks lying, they scared of something!"
23. "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."
24. "There is no single face in nature, because every eye that looks upon it, sees it from its own angle. So every man's spice-box seasons his own food."
25. "Grown people know that they do not always know the way of things, and even if they think they know, they do not know where and how they got the proof."
26. "My sense of humor will always stand in the way of my seeing myself, my family, my race or my nation as the whole intent of the universe."
27. "Mystery is the essence of divinity."
28. "It seems to me to be true that heavens are placed in the sky because it is the unreachable. The unreachable and therefore the unknowable always seems divine--hence, religion. People need religion because the great masses fear life and its consequences. Its responsibilities weigh heavy. Feeling a weakness in the face of great forces, men seek an alliance with omnipotence to bolster up their feeling of weakness, even though the omnipotence they rely upon is a creature of their own minds. It gives them a feeling of security."
29. "Why fear? The stuff of my being is matter, ever changing, ever moving, but never lost; so what need of denominations and creeds to deny myself the comfort of all my fellow men? The wide belt of the universe has no need for finger-rings. I am one with the infinite and need no other assurance."
30. "The present was an egg laid by the past that had the future inside its shell."
31. "There is nothing to make you like other human beings so much as doing things for them."
32. "No man may make another free."
33. "There is two things everybody got to find out for theirselves. They got to find out about love and they got to find out about living."
34. "Love is like the sea. It's a moving thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from the shore it meets, and it's different with every shore."
35. "If writers were too wise, perhaps no books would get written at all. It might be better to ask yourself 'Why?' afterward than before … There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you."