Zora Neale Hurston
Length: 937 words (2.7 double-spaced pages)
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Zora Neale Hurston was a novelist, folklorist, and anthropologist. Zora plays an important role for the Harlem Renaissance. Zora Neale Hurston is considered one of the titans of twentieth-century African American literature. Despite that she would later fall into disgrace because of her firm views of civil rights, her lyrical writing which praise southern black culture has influenced generations of black American literary figures. Hurston’s work also had an impact on later black American authors such as Ralph Ellison, Alice Walker, and Toni Morrison.
The early life of Zora Neale Hurston has been covered in mystery. While the majority of biographical accounts list the year of her birth as 1901, just as many list 1903, and in a 1993 biography film they list her birth day as 1891.
Hurston's parents were Lucy Ann Potts, a schoolteacher, and John Hurston, a carpenter and Baptist preacher. Her father was a three-term mayor.
In 1904, her mother died and her father sent her to a private school in Jacksonville.
At the age of twenty-six she enrolls at the high school division of Morgan College. Although it is believe that she was twenty-six years old at the time of enrollment, she listed her age as sixteen and 1901 as her birthday. Hurston graduated from Morgan Academy, the high school division of Morgan College, in 1918. Later that year, she began her undergraduate studies at Howard University. While at Howard, Hurston became one of the earliest initiates of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority and co-founded The Hilltop, the University's student newspaper. Hurston left Howard in 1924, unable to support herself.
Hurston was offered a scholarship to Barnard College where she received her Bachelor Degree in anthropology in 1927. While she was at Barnard, she conducted ethnographic research under her advisor, the noted anthropologist Franz Boas of Columbia University. She also worked with Ruth Benedict as well as fellow anthropology student Margaret Mead.
Upon reaching adulthood Zora was working as a domestic. She still manages to travel throughout the country. She met a young black poet name Herbert Sheen, who, on 19 May 1927, became her first husband. As Sheen later told Hurston's biographer, Hemenway, the marriage was doomed "to an early, amicable divorce" because Hurston's career was her first priority. Her ambition also led to tension other romance in her life. Hurston married and divorced three husbands and, at age 44, fell in love with 23-year-old Percy Punter.
When he asked her to give up her career to marry him, she refused because she "had things clawing inside her that must be said."
Despite the novel's 1937 publication, Hurston's struggle for financial security continued throughout the 1940s. Once, she even pawned her typewriter. The largest royalty any of her books ever earned was $943.75. Since most of her books were published during the Depression, she paid her bills through story and essay sales, book advances, and two Works Progress Administration jobs with the Federal Writers' Project.
Hurston spent her last ten years as a temporary writer for magazines and newspapers. She worked in a library in Cape Canaveral, Florida, and as a substitute teacher in Fort Pierce, where she died of a stroke and was buried in an unmarked grave in Jan. 28, 1960. Fort Pierce celebrates Hurston annually through various events such birthday parties, and a several-day festival at the end of April, Zora Fest. Her life and legacy are also celebrated every year in Eatonville, the town that inspired her book "John Redding Goes to Sea".
The Harlem Renaissance was an African American cultural movement of the 1920s and early 1930s that marked the first time that mainstream publishers and critics took African American literature seriously and that African American literature and arts attracted significant attention from the nation at large.
In 1925, shortly before entering Barnard, Hurston became one of the leaders of the literary renaissance happening in Harlem, producing the literary magazine “Fire!!” along with Langston Hughes and Wallace Thurman.
In 1921, her first short story "John Redding Goes to Sea" that was set in Eatonville was published in the Howard literary magazine The Stylus. In the following years she contributed “Spunk” and several more stories to various magazines.
In 1935 Hurston published the two most defining book of her career, “Mules and Men” and “Their Eyes Were Watching God”. The following year her travelogue and study of Caribbean voodoo Tell My Horse was published. Her autobiography Dust Tracks on a Road was a commercial success in 1942. During that thirty-year period she published seven books, many short stories, magazine articles, and plays, and she gained a reputation as an outstanding folklorist and novelist. Her final novel Seraph on the Suwanee, published in 1948, was a critical failure. By the mid-1940s Hurston's writing career was faltering due to her political views, she believes that America should stay segregated, and she was arrested and charged with molesting a ten-year-old boy. Although she was acquitted, the scars to her image remained permanent. Hurston sunk into depression as publishers rejected one after another of her works.
1. Women in History. Zora Neal Hurston biography - extended. 25 January 2008. Lakewood Public Library. 12 May 2008.
2. " Zora Neale Hurston." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 11 April 2008. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 12 May 2008.
3. Butler, Judith. Dust Tracks on a Road: An Autobiography. 1942. Republish. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006.
4. Zora Neale Hurston. The Official Web Site of Zora Neale Hurston. 3 June 2006. Estate of Zora Neale Hurston and HarperCollins. 12 May 2008.
5. Their Eyes Were Watching God About the Author. The Big Read. 13 July 2007. National Endowments for the Art. 12 May 2008.