Zora Neale Hurston was the most prolific African-American novelist from the 1920s to the 1950s. Born in the Deep South, she worked as a maid and took evening classes for ten years in order to get to university, saying ‘I shall wrassle me up a future or die trying’. In her masterpiece Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) Janie Woods marries twice before finding love with an itinerant labourer called Tea Cake. Beautifully imagistic and drenched in rich Southern vernacular, this novel is about an independent woman ahead of her time who, like the author herself, forges her own path.
I was a judge on the 2010 Orange Award for New Writers and Irene Sabatini’s The Boy Next Door (2009) was the deserved winner. It is set in post-independent Zimbabwe of the 80s and 90s and explores the unorthodox relationship between Lindiwe, a ‘coloured’ girl, and Ian, an unreconstructed ‘Rhodie’ or Rhodesian — who is an amazing fictional character who jumps off the page. Set against a backdrop of a deteriorating Zimbabwe the novel reveals the personal through the political and unravels the complex layers of life there. Yet this is not miserabilist fiction – it is an abundant, triumphant and glorious read.
Bernardine Evaristo is the author of six books of poetry and fiction. For more information visit www.bevaristo.wordpress.com
(Photograph: Zora Neale Hurston by Carl Van Vechten. Silver geletin print, 1938)