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Who was Zora Neale Hurston?

Zora Neale Hurston lived many lives during her all to unrecognized existance. Even the epigraph that graces the headstone that Alice Walker placed at her grave at the Garden of Heavenly Rest in 1973,

Zora Neale Hurston

"A Genius of the South"


Novelist, Folklorist, Anthropologist

does not fully or acurately capture her multifaceted existance. She was a woman as Mary Helen Washington elequently observed "half in shadow." Even the birthdate printed on the tombstone, a birthdate that Hurston cites in her autobiography, proves inaccurate as family records indicate that she was born a full decade earlier. Furthermore, Hurston held many more occupations than the three listed in her epigraph. She worked as a playwrite, an anthropologist, a high school and college Drama professor, a director, a librarian, a producer, and in her latter and more impoverished years a maid.

In 1925, Zora Neale Hurston traveled to Harlem to take part in the self-consciously created Harlem Renaissance with " $1.50, no job, no friends, and a lot of hope." Born on January 7, 1891 in Eatonville, Florida Hurston attended Howard University where she became acquinted with figureheads of the Renaissance such as Alain Locke and Charles S. Johnson.

Coming to Harlem at the bequest of Johnson, Hurston soon became one of the prominent New Negro artists who formed the focal point of the Harlem Renaissance. Through the publication of stories such as "Spunk," "John Redding Goes To Sea," and "Sweat" Hurston created an artistic aesthetic that prioritized the creative significance of working class black culture to the creation of "high" art. Her interest in the folk translated into a fellowship at Barnard University with famed anthropologist Franz Boas. She went on to publish two collections of folk lore Mules and Men (1935), a collection of folktales from her birthplace, and Tell My Horse (1938) a book of Jamaican and Haitian folklore.

In addition to collecting folklore Hurston split her creative talent between her work for the WPA Federal Theatre Project, for which she produced her own works The Great Day, From Sun to Sun and Singing Steel, and the WPA writers project. As part of the WPA writers project Hurston returned to Florida to take part in a unpublished collection of folktales and songs entitled The Florida Negro. The 1930's also found Hurston at the height of her novel writing career.

In 1937 Hurston reached the high water mark of her creative writing career with the publication of her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. Written in seven weeks during a folklore collecting expedition in the Caribbean, the novel captures the plight of protagonist Janie to find love that is like a "pear tree." Janie, like many of Hurston's characters, is representitive of the author herself. Like Janie, Hurston lied about her age, had an affair with a much younger man, and was constantly hassled by the judgements of those in the community who did not understand her.

Following the publication of Their Eyes Were Watching God Hurston completed Tell My Horse  and Seraph on the Suwanee, a novel based on the experiences of a white cracker family. Because of the negative critical response Hurston recieved Seraph on the Suwanee was the last novel she ever published.

In the 1940's Hurston returned to Eatonville and although she published a variety of articles in journals like the Saturday Evening Post she soon faded into obscurity. The 1950's found her working as a maid for a white family near eatonville. Hurston died in 1960 in the Saint Lucie County Welfare Home after suffering complications from a stroke. For a more in depth description of Hurston's re-discovery and the reasons for her relative obscurity see

Zora As Performer | A Misfit In Her Own Time | List of Publications


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