Zora Neale Hurston, 1891-1960

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Woman Category: Literature & PoetryWoman Tags: Anthropologist, Author, and NYC Women

  • HerStory

    An anthropologist, folklorist, and author. One of the dominant female figures of the Harlem Renaissance.

    Zora Neale Hurston was born in Notasulga, Alabama, the fifth of eight children of two former enslaved people. At the age of 3, the family moved to Eatonville, Florida – an all-black town. Later, Hurston will set many of her stories in Eatonville, describing it as a place where African-Americans live independently with no white oppression. She attended the local school until the age of 13, but after her mother had died and her father remarried, she was sent to boarding school in Jacksonville, Florida, for a few months. On her return, Hurston had to finance herself to complete her education, so she worked in a series of menial jobs, including a maid for an actress in the traveling Gilbert and Sullivan group.
    In 1917, at the age of 26, Hurston attended the high school division of Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland, to resume her formal education. She presented herself as a 16 years old teenager, claiming that she was born in 1901. Afterward, she continued to claim she is ten years younger than she was. After receiving her high school diploma, she enrolled at Howard University and then moved to NYC to study anthropology at Barnard College under Franz Boas. Hurston arrived in NYC during the Harlem Renaissance, and her apartment was a popular gathering spot for artists such as the poet Langston Hughes and actress and singer Ethel Waters. Around that time, Hurston had her first literary success, publishing a play and a short story at the journal – Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life journal.
    At 37, after earning her Bachelor’s degree, Hurston continued to graduate studies at Columbia University, where she researched the African-Americans in the South. For a few years, she traveled to Florida and Georgia, focusing on various forms of culture such as hoodoo, literature, folklore, and Negro music. By 1935, Hurston published several articles and short stories, a novel, and a folklore collection of her findings. In 1936, she traveled to Haiti and Jamaica, where she studied cultural and spiritual rituals, which she documented in the book “Tell My Horse.” In addition to her field research, Hurston worked for the Federal Writer’s Project as a faculty member of North Carolina College for Negroes, and on the staff of the Library of Congress. In the late 1940s, she lived in Puerto Cortés, Honduras, research the poly-ethnic African ancestry of the residence and their creole cultures.
    Hurston dedicated her life to documenting black culture, publishing dozens of folklore collections, novels, essays, plays, short stories, poems, and an autobiography. Sadly, she never received the attention or financial reward for her work. In her last decade, Hurston lived in poverty, working as a freelance writer and maid. She lived in a welfare home when she suffered a stroke and passed away when she is 69 years old. Her remains were buried in an unmarked grave.

    “Sometimes I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.”

    “Sometimes I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.”


    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • She was one of the earliest initiates of the Zeta Phi Beta sorority.
    • She co-founded The Hilltop, Howard university’s student newspaper.
    • She was the only black student at Barnard College.
    • In 1934, she founded a school of dramatic arts at Bethune-Cookman College.
    • She worked as a drama teacher at the North Carolina College for Negroes at Durham.
    • She was married and divorced three times and did not have children.
    • She ordered to burn her papers after her death. A law officer and friend of hers who passed by her house put out the fire and saved the documents. Today, they are kept at the English Department at Bethune-Cookman College.
    • The TV movie “Zora is My Name!” is based on her life story.
    • Her novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God” was adapted into a movie produced by Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions.
    • In 1973, the scholar Charlotte D. Hunt and the author Alice Walker found an unmarked grave where Hurston was buried and marked it as Hurston.
    • The Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts is taking place every January in The Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts in Eatonville, FL.
    • The Zora Neale Hurston Award of the American Library Association is named in her honor.
  • More About Her Legacy

    * The Bethune-Cookman College Award for Education and Human Relations (1956)
    * Inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame (1994)
    * Inducted into the New York Writer's Hall of Fame. (2010)
    * Inducted into the Alabama Writers Hall of Fame (2015)

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  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • Zora Neale Hurston: Heart with Room for Every Joy [FULL Doc]

    Zora Neale Hurston was an American author, anthropologist, and filmmaker. She portrayed racial struggles in the early-20th-century American South and published research on Haitian Vodou. The most popular of her four novels is Their Eyes Were Watching God, published in 1937.

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    “I have the strength to walk my own path, no matter how hard, in my search for reality, and not cling to the splendid wagon of desperate illusions.” A writer of novels, short stories, folktales, plays, and essays, Zora Neale Hurston combined a hunger for research and a desire to penetrate the deepest of popular beliefs with a truly exquisite narrative talent. This illuminating biography of Hurston—a compelling story of a free spirit who achieved national prominence yet died in obscurity—examines the rich legacy of her writings, which include Mules and Men, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Tell My Horse, and Dust Tracks on a Road. Interviews with Lucy Anne Hurston, Zora’s niece and author of the biography Speak, So You Can Speak Again, and with Henry Louis Gates Jr., W. E. B. DuBois Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University, are featured. The program amply demonstrates that Hurston truly had, as it said in her high school yearbook, “A heart with room for every joy.”

    Narrated by her niece, Lucy Hurston, this biographical overview of Zora Neale Hurston includes background about her life and family and growing up in Eatonville, Florida, the first chartered all Negro city in America. In 1919 Zora starts to write while attending Howard University. Zora concentrates on timeless topics of life and death, not divisive Negro topics. The way she tells a story becomes controversial as she masterfully uses African American vernacular as a standard idiom. The successful combination of Standard English and Black vernacular in her writings sets Hurston apart. She receives recognition and gradually establishes herself as a nationally known, published black female author. Zora becomes a vibrant part of the Harlem Negro movement and Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s.

    As an observer of daily life and an anthropologist, Hurston becomes interested in Voodoo and travels South to collect and publish on Black Culture and American Voodoo folklore, a topic she studies all her life. Her works include her biography, Dust Tracks on a Road, Mules and Men, and Their Eyes Were Watching God, a controversial, sensual, groundbreaking work which speaks of culture, love, anxiety and “what gets us out of bed in the morning.”

    Includes commentary by Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Negro Folklore classics sung by Hurston herself. All technical aspects are of professional quality.

  • Portrait of Zora Neale Hurston in 1938. Photo credit - Van Vechten, Carl @ LOC

  • Citations and Additional References:
    Official website.
    Wikipedia page.