Zora Neale Hurston was a novelist, folklorist and anthropologist most famous for her 1937 novel, “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” Hurston’s path to prominence came by way of hardship and savvy ingenuity, helping her become one of the most beloved literary figures of all time.’
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Hurston was born on January 7 in 1891, in Notasulga, Alabama, to parents who were former slaves. Her parents uprooted the family and moved to Eatonville, Fla., one of the earliest all-black incorporated townships.
After the death of her mother in 1904, Hurston lived with several family members until she was sent off to boarding school in Jacksonville.
Facing a variety of hardships while working odd jobs, Hurston eventually moved to Baltimore in a bid to change her fortunes. Although she was 26 at the time, Hurston said she was 10 years younger attend the free Morgan College, then the high school portion of Morgan State University.
After graduating, Hurston entered Howard University and earned an associate degree. It was then Hurston had some of her earliest works printed in the school’s newspaper.
From there, she entered Barnard College in New York on a scholarship, graduating with a degree in anthropology in 1928 and continuing her anthropology studies at Columbia University for the next few years.
Hurston’s interest in folklore, especially in the Caribbean and her native Florida helped her become became a fixture of the Harlem Renaissance movement. Her research on African-American colloquial language and folklore is valued to this day.
She counted Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen and other great scribes as her friends. Her apartment became a popular hangout for the Renaissance writers and artists. Hurston married twice but both marriages ended abruptly.
In 1934, Hurston released her first novel, “Jonah’s Gourd Vine.”Two years later, she received a Guggenheim fellowship and worked on anthropological research in Haiti and Jamaica.
While writing her best known work, “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” Hurston studied voodoo. In 1942, she released her autobiography “Dust Tracks On A Road.” Though it was critically acclaimed, Hurston began to fall out of the limelight.
In 1948, she was unjustly accused of molesting a ten-year-old boy, but the scandal torpedoed her career. She continued to write until the last years of her life, but much of her work went unpublished.
Hurston died poor and alone on January 28, 1960. Hurston’s work enjoyed a revival thanks to author Alice Walker, who wrote about the novelist in a 1975 essay for Ms. Magazine. Walker counted Hurston as an influence, and fought for new editions of her older works such as her short stories and essays.
Hurston was also an inspiration to Ralph Ellison and Toni Morrison, among other Black writers. Her legacy continues to influences Black writers to this day.
PHOTO: LIbrary of Congress/Public Domain
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