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Set in balmy Eatonville, Florida in the early first half of the 20th century, “Their Eyes Were Watching God” is a classic, romantic story, bursting to the seams with culture, love, and life. Author Zora Neale Hurston spins a colorful tale of love and loss, focused around Janie Woods, who discovers that life is what one makes it.

Janie struggles with the idea of love, and spends the youthful, formative years of her life waiting for the magic of love to find her. By the time she is 16, she is married to a much-older man, Logan Killicks, and lives in a type of subordination to her husband. Having neither the guidance of her mother or father, Janie relied on the wisdom of her grandmother, Nanny, to bolster her, but Nanny’s narrow view of the world stunted the young woman, and landed her in the unhappy marriage with Logan. Janie leaves Logan in favor of smooth-talking, confident Joe Starks, and the two build a successful life together. But the love Janie longs for is missing from her second marriage as well, and Joe dies while he and Janie are in a bitter feud. After many years, love finally finds Janie in the unlikely personage of Tea Cake, a poor man with a handsome smile and big dreams. Even though she is discouraged by everyone around her, Janie leaves her home and elopes with Tea Cake. The turbulent journey of the lovers is riveting, and ends in an unexpected but beautiful way.

Though “Their Eyes” has won critical acclaim, prestigious awards, and honors of every kind, its author, Zora Neale Hurston, didn’t live to see her masterpiece realized. Hurston, who studied anthropology at Barnard College, died in relative poverty in 1960—her funeral was paid for by donations from friends and fans. Her grave remained unmarked until 1973, when young writer Alice Walker (yes, the same Alice Walker of “The Color Purple” fame) re-discovered it, and placed a headstone there for Hurston, whom she cites as a major inspiration for her own work. The spirit of the talented writer, who was friends with such luminaries as Langston Hughes and Ethel Waters, remains alive and well in the new generation of black female writers. A film based off of the novel debuted in 2005, starring Halle Berry and Michael Ealy.

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S. Willis is a native Virginian. She is the author of a children’s book, “The Little Adventures of Bella and DJ,” which will be released in May 2011 (visit www.WordsByWillis.com to pre-order).

Want to recommend a book for S. Willis to review? Email your suggestions to: Samantha@wordsbywillis.com