I remember the first time I was confronted with your work. It was 10th grade in my suburban high school. My English teacher assigned Their Eyes Were Watching God and I’ll never forget those few weeks with that text. I’m almost ashamed of my old self and how I cringed at the vernacular you wrote in and how quick I was to reject this story as being unworthy of respect let alone analysis, but something kept me turning the page. It wasn’t until I finally finished that I sat in silence. It was a silent reverence, an adoration, an apology because at the time I had yet to read something so powerful, so honest, so visceral. You spoke to the me who only appeared at the kitchen table, at the beauty shop, at home far away from my predominately-white school. You held a mirror up to me and it reflected not the image I hoped to project to the world, but the true person I was outside of the double-dutch game of double-consciousness. It was alarming, it was uncomfortable, it was liberating.
You resurfaced again when I expressed my fear of not being able to be a writer because of my race and gender. My 12th grade teacher referenced you and your pride in your culture and gender. From that moment on my love and obsession for you grew. What a maverick you were, how fearless you were.
Thank you for working, despite the criticism, and traveling the diaspora in order to preserve a piece of culture for young people like me who approach with reluctance and even shame from our own Eurocentric nurturing. You taught me to write from the soul and with passion. You taught me to never tuck in my vulnerabilities and flaws, but to let them hang loose and to be proud of where I come from. You taught me that my story is legitimate, worthy of respect and analysis.
Happy Birthday and thank you for living out loud and writing it all down.