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Zora Neale Hurston  

Novelist, short story writer, essayist, folklorist and anthropologist, Zora Neale Hurston was a major writer of the first part of the 20th Century, all but forgotten until years after her death in 1960.
Last Updated: May 10, 2016 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960)


Brief Biography

Zora Neale Hurston was born in Alabama in 1891, the fifth of eight children.  Her mother was a school teacher and her father a preacher, farmer and carpenter.  Three years after her birth, the family moved to Eatonville, Florida, the small central Florida town that she would always consider her home.    It was an all black community-one of the first all-black towns to be incorporated in the United States.  Hurston's father was elected mayor of the town twice and was very active in religious and civic affairs.  Her mother promoted the education of the town's young people.  Hurston enjoyed her childhood in Eatonville and was never made to feel inferior.  On the contrary, she saw men and women like her parents living enriching lives.  She absorbed the local black culture and remembered the stories she heard her elders tell.   She loved Florida and the folk traditions and stories she learned from the people of Eatonville.  She returned to Florida and spent her last years there.   The experiences of her childhood influenced her view of life, her self-concept and her writing.

Hurston's happy childhood ended in 1904 when her mother died and her father remarried.  She was somewhat neglected by her father and disliked by her stepmother  ( the feelings were mutual).   Over the ensuing years, Hurston worked a series of low paying jobs.   In 1917, she was in Baltimore, 26 years old and still not a high school graduate. She was determined to change that, however.  She lied about her age in order to qualify for free schooling.  She graduated from high school in 1918.  That same year she began her studies at Howard University, earning an associate's degree in 1920.  She was offered a scholarship to attend Barnard College and received her B.A. in anthropology in 1928.  Two years of graduate training in anthropology followed her graduation from Barnard. The year before her graduation, she married Herbert Sheen.The marriage ended in 1931.  A second brief marriage ended in 1939.

Hurston was a trained anthropologist as well as a novelist.  She undertook research in the Caribbean and the American South. She wrote "Mules and Men" in 1935 and after more research in Jamaica, wrote "Tell My Horse" in 1938. 

Hurston was in New York City in 1925 and knew many of the writers during the Harlem Renaissance.  The 1930's were productive years for her.  Her  most important novel,   "Their Eyes Were Watching God" was published in 1937.  In the 1940's her work was published in several periodicals such as "The American Mercury."  She also published an autobigraphy in 1942 entitled " Dust Tracks on a Road."    She published another novel "Seraph on the Suwanee" in 1948.   In 1952 she was assigned by a newspaper to cover a sensational murder trial.

Hurston never received much in the way of financial reward for her writing.  The 1950's were difficult years, although she did receive an award from Bethune-Cookman College.  In 1956, she worked as a librarian at at U.S. Air Force base in Florida..  She continued to write until 1959, when she suffered a stroke and was forced to enter a welfare home. Her health suffered due to an unfounded criminal charge and worries over money.   She died at the age of 69  in 1960 of hypertensive heart disease and was buried in an unmarked grave in The Garden of Heavenly Rest in Fort Pierce.   Friends took a collection to pay for her funeral. Thirteen years after Hurston's death, all but forgotten, Alice Walker and a friend looked for and found Hurston's grave.  A marker was placed ( later more information near the gravesite was added) and Walker wrote an article about her.  This was the beginning of the Hurston revival.  Because of Alice Walker and others, Zora Hurston will not be forgotten and in death receives the recognition not fully awarded her in life.


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