Zora Neale Hurston was an acclaimed novelist who studied the vast complexity of black culture. She was a curious soul who wrote about everything—from marriage and Caribbean voodoo to the American South—by fully immersing herself in it. Yet for whatever reason, Hurston never got the credit she deserved when she was alive; even her masterwork—1937’s Their Eyes Were Watching God—was excoriated by fellow authors in the Harlem Renaissance. Undeterred, Hurston lived abundantly, sailing through criticism with the utmost grace.
Jamila Woods celebrates the icon on “ZORA,” the first single of her forthcoming album LEGACY! LEGACY!, by singing from Hurston’s imagined perspective. Woods—in the spirit of Hurston—hears all the scrutiny from the likes of Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison, but it doesn’t affect her in the slightest. “Your words don’t leave scars/Believe me I’ve heard it all,” Woods declares with a shrug. Hurston was different: Born in 1891 in Alabama, she grew up around black excellence and could readily engage with pastors and lawmakers who enforced her creativity. She was never taught to feel inferior because of her skin color. Woods honors that independence and does a masterful job of connecting past and present, using contemporary R&B to laud Hurston’s character. It’s not only a vibrant cut, it’s a proper kiss-off to those who think they know you, though they haven’t taken time to engage. Hurston never stopped growing; she filled her enemies with white light.