Zora Neale Hurston in 1938; photo by carl van vechten, library of congress
childhood and education
in recent years, zora neale hurston has received acclaim for her work, but the volume and influence of her output as a writer, anthropologist, and folklorist is still underappreciated. Much of Hurston’s writing was directly inspired by her mature years in the South and the ethnographic research that later brought her back to that community, bridging her literary and anthropological practices.
Although he was born in Alabama in 1891, Hurston considered Eatonville, Florida, his true home. the family moved when she was a little girl. Eatonville, America’s first incorporated black municipality, had a major impact on Hurston’s developing sense of identity as she grew up.
Hurston’s mother passed away in 1904, ending what had hitherto been a happy childhood. Her father remarried a woman with whom Hurston had a strained relationship, and the couple briefly sent her to a Baptist boarding school in Jacksonville, Florida. Not much is known about the ten years of Hurston’s life that followed, she referred to them as “her haunted years of hers”. Somewhere in those missing years, Hurston began using 1901 as the year of her birth to further her education. she went on to claim that she was ten years younger than she was for the rest of her life.
In 1917, Hurston continued his education at Morgan State University High School and then enrolled at Howard University, where he received an associate’s degree in 1920. His experiences at Howard would prove formative for his literary career. He joined a salon run by Georgia Douglas Johnson and met other writers such as Bruce Nugent, Jean Toomer, and Alice Dunbar-Nelson, many of whom would become his colleagues during the Harlem Renaissance. Hurston’s first published works were in Howard’s Literary Club Magazine. She also began drama studies at Howard, though it wasn’t her first exposure to theater: she had worked as a maid for the lead singer of a Gilbert and Sullivan touring company when she was a teenager.
moving to new york
hurston arrived in new york city in january 1925, and soon after, his work found an audience. He entered two pieces in a literary contest organized by Opportunity magazine, winning second place for both, and made quite an impression at the awards dinner, where he met future friends and collaborators Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and Carl Van Vechten. hurston then won a scholarship to finish his studies at barnard college, where he completed research with anthropologist franz boas and folklorist ruth benedict. Hurston graduated from Barnard in 1928 with a degree in anthropology. she was barnard’s first black graduate.
The 1920s and 1930s were fruitful both for Hurston’s literary career and for his anthropological research. after graduating from barnard, he spent two years pursuing a doctorate in anthropology in columbia, where he continued his work with boas. He traveled to the South and the Caribbean to research and record the folktales, music, and other cultural practices of the black communities there, as well as publishing short stories and plays in magazines and anthologies such as Opportunity, ¡Fuego! and ebony and topaz: a collection.
It was also during this time that Hurston first experienced success as a playwright. one of the prizes that he gave him by chance in 1925 was for his play coup de color, which was later published by the magazine. It is unknown how many plays Hurston wrote during his career, as many of them are presumed lost, but the texts of ten of his dramatic works have been preserved and made available by the Library of Congress, including The Mule Bone. : a black life comedy in three acts, which he wrote with langston hughes. Other plays to which Hurston is known to have contributed include the white author musical revues, Scandals of the Jungle, and the Fast and the Furious. Perhaps most notably, she herself produced The Big Day: An Original Black Folklore Program at the Golden Theater on Broadway in 1932. She wrote, directed, choreographed, performed, and financed the show, which featured 41 other actors. After her New York years, Hurston also spent time working in the theater departments at Bethune-Cookman College and North Carolina Central University, cementing her love of theater and her desire to impart that love to generations. future.
later years and death
Hurston spent the late 1930s and early 1940s on a variety of projects and in a few different jobs. He received a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship in 1936 that allowed him to travel to Jamaica and Haiti, where he wrote his most famous work, the novel His Eyes Watched God. He worked for the Works Progress Administration from 1938 to 1939 and then published his autobiography Dust Tracks on a Highway in 1942. He was married more than once, but neither marriage seems to have lasted long or had a significant impact on his life and career of him . The end of Hurston’s life was spent in the South, where he lived out his days with little money and no recognition. she wrote freelance articles for magazines and newspapers while also working as a maid. Separated from her family, Hurston died of heart disease in a welfare home in January 1960. She was buried in an unmarked grave in Fort Pierce, Florida.
It is due in large part to the efforts of writer Alice Walker that Hurston’s grave and his handiwork were rediscovered and brought back into public view. walker recounted her visit to eatonville and hurston’s grave in an article for mrs. magazine titled “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston” in 1975. She commissioned a new and more appropriate headstone for Hurston’s burial site which read: “Zora Neale Hurston: ‘A Southern Genius’: Novelist, Folklorist, Anthropologist, 1901 -1960.” ♦