The Next Chapter

Kaia Kater on the book she's re-reading for the third time

The musician recommends Their Eyes are Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston.
Musician Kaia Kater explains why you should read Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. (Polina Mourzina)

Kaia Kater is a young musician who spent four years studying Appalachian music in West Virginia. Her new album is Nine Pin. The Next Chapter asked Kater what book is sitting on her bedside table, and she told us why Zora Neale Hurston's 1937 classic Their Eyes Were Watching God has made its way back to the top of her to-be-read pile.

It's one of my favourite books — I'm re-reading it for the third time. The book is set in Florida in the 1920s, 1930s. Around that time there was this attitude in black literature where black authors were pressured to portray black people as upstanding and moral and all of these things. The idea was well, if white people are saying all this stuff about us, why are we writing characters who are flawed? We should be portraying a noble black identity. And [Hurston] had no interest in that. I think in her mind she just wanted to portray what her childhood was like, and have a female black character that reflected her own experiences. 

The main character, Janie, lives with her grandmother. Janie's mother was mentally torn apart [by her experiences], and early in the book she disappears and isn't really in Janie's life. So Janie's primary mother figure is her grandma, who's a former slave. And her grandma says to her "The black woman is the mule of the world." Janie's told that when she's nine years old and that's imprinted in her brain. And she strives to be free and to have a free voice and to know who she is. I identify a lot with that because as a woman and a minority your story is sometimes different from most people's stories and you have to find your own path.

Kaia Kater's comments have been edited and condensed.

Watch Kaia Kater perform "Little Pink":

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