Zora Neale Hurston (1891 - 1960)
writer, folklorist, anthropologist
photo by Carl Van Vechten
Zora Neale Hurston was born on January 7, 1891, in Eatonville, Florida. Her hometown and her experiences there provided inspiration for several of her novels, including the autobiographical Dust Tracks on the Road. Hurston attended Morgan Academy (now Morgan State University) in Baltimore. After completing the high school requirements there, she studied at Howard University in Washington, D.C.
In 1925, she submitted a story, "Spunk," and a play, "Color Struck," to Opportunity magazine's literary contest, and won second place awards. From 1925 through 1927 she attended Barnard College, studying anthropology with Dr. Franz Boas. She subsequently did field research recording the folklore and ways of African Americans, first in Harlem, then throughout the rural South. Her work played a large role in preserving the folk traditions and cultural heritage of African Americans. She expressed her genius by combining her field notes with some autobiography and a vivid imagination to create some of the most exciting, authentic literature of the twentieth century.
Hurston was ahead of her time. Her literary activities were influential in bridging the gap between what came to be known as the first and second phases of the Harlem Renaissance. She began writing short stories in the 1920s, but her major achievements were generally between 1931 and 1943, when she wrote scholarly works on folklore and published six major novels. She was on the vanguard of the modern literary movement. Several of her books won recognition and her stories were published in the leading literary magazines of the times.
Her most notable novel was Their Eyes Were Watching God, a classic in American literature. Hurston worked with the Federal Writers project and was also active in the theater. Zora Hurston's life ended in relative obscurity. She worked as a maid, but was still writing. Her short story, "Conscious of the Court," was published in the Saturday Evening Post during that time. She died alone, in a nursing home in Florida in 1960. However, there has recently been a revival of interest in the work of Zora Neale Hurston, largely due to the work of writer Alice Walker (The Color purple). Many of her books have recently been republished and several plays based on her work have been produced on stage, such as "Spunk," "My Name is Zora," and "Mule Bone," written in collaboration with Langston Hughes. Perhaps a movie is next!