Home      Discussion      Topics      Dictionary      Almanac
Signup       Login
Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston

Overview
Zora Neale Hurston was an American folklorist
Folkloristics
Folkloristics is the formal academic study of folklore. The term derives from a nineteenth century German designation of folkloristik to distinguish between folklore as the content and folkloristics as its study, much as language is distinguished from linguistics...

, anthropologist, and author during the time of the Harlem Renaissance
Harlem Renaissance
The Harlem Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned the 1920s and 1930s. At the time, it was known as the "New Negro Movement", named after the 1925 anthology by Alain Locke...

. Of Hurston's four novels and more than 50 published short stories, plays, and essays, she is best known for her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God
Their Eyes Were Watching God
Their Eyes Were Watching God is a 1937 novel and the best-known work by African American writer Zora Neale Hurston. Set in central and southern Florida in the early 20th century, the novel garnered attention and controversy at the time of its publication, and has come to be regarded as a seminal...

.

Hurston was the fifth of eight children of John Hurston and Lucy Ann Hurston (née Potts). Her father was a Baptist
Baptist
Baptists comprise a group of Christian denominations and churches that subscribe to a doctrine that baptism should be performed only for professing believers , and that it must be done by immersion...

 preacher
Preacher
Preacher is a term for someone who preaches sermons or gives homilies. A preacher is distinct from a theologian by focusing on the communication rather than the development of doctrine. Others see preaching and theology as being intertwined...

, tenant farmer
Tenant farmer
A tenant farmer is one who resides on and farms land owned by a landlord. Tenant farming is an agricultural production system in which landowners contribute their land and often a measure of operating capital and management; while tenant farmers contribute their labor along with at times varying...

, and carpenter
Carpentry
A carpenter is a skilled craftsperson who works with timber to construct, install and maintain buildings, furniture, and other objects. The work, known as carpentry, may involve manual labor and work outdoors....

, and her mother was a school teacher.
Discussion
Ask a question about 'Zora Neale Hurston'
Start a new discussion about 'Zora Neale Hurston'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Quotations

Ah done been in sorrow's kitchen and Ah done licked out all de pots. Ah done died in grief and been buried in de bitter waters, and Ah done rose agin from de dead lak Lazarus.

Lucy in Jonah's Gourd Vine (1934), Ch. 6, p. 131, ISBN 0-060-91651-6

Gods always behave like the people who make them.

Tell My Horse (1938), Ch. 15, p. 219. ISBN 0-060-91649-4

I am colored but I offer nothing in the way of extenuating circumstances except the fact that I am the only Negro in the United States whose grandfather on the mother's side was not an Indian chief.

I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all. I do not belong to that sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal. Even in the helter-skelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less. No, I do not weep at the world — I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.

Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board.

Ch. 1, p. 9

"Well, Ah see Mouth-Almighty is still sittin' in de same place. And Ah reckon they got me up in they mouth now.""Yes indeed. You know if you pass some people and don't speak tuh suit 'em dey got tuh go way back in yo' life and see whut you ever done. They know mo' 'bout yuh than you do yo' self. They done 'heard' 'bout you just what they hope done happened.""If God don't think no mo' 'bout 'em than Ah do, they's a lost ball in de high grass."

Janie and Phoeby, Ch. 1, p. 16

There are years that ask questions and years that answer.

Ch. 3, p. 38

Of course he wasn't dead. He could never be dead until she herself had finished feeling and thinking. The kiss of his memory made pictures of love and light against the wall. Here was peace. She pulled in her horizon like a great fish-net. Pulled it from around the waist of the world and draped it over her shoulder. So much of life in its meshes! She called in her soul to come and see.

Ch. 20, p. 193 :ISBN 0-060-92168-4
Encyclopedia
Zora Neale Hurston was an American folklorist
Folkloristics
Folkloristics is the formal academic study of folklore. The term derives from a nineteenth century German designation of folkloristik to distinguish between folklore as the content and folkloristics as its study, much as language is distinguished from linguistics...

, anthropologist, and author during the time of the Harlem Renaissance
Harlem Renaissance
The Harlem Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned the 1920s and 1930s. At the time, it was known as the "New Negro Movement", named after the 1925 anthology by Alain Locke...

. Of Hurston's four novels and more than 50 published short stories, plays, and essays, she is best known for her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God
Their Eyes Were Watching God
Their Eyes Were Watching God is a 1937 novel and the best-known work by African American writer Zora Neale Hurston. Set in central and southern Florida in the early 20th century, the novel garnered attention and controversy at the time of its publication, and has come to be regarded as a seminal...

.

Early life


Hurston was the fifth of eight children of John Hurston and Lucy Ann Hurston (née Potts). Her father was a Baptist
Baptist
Baptists comprise a group of Christian denominations and churches that subscribe to a doctrine that baptism should be performed only for professing believers , and that it must be done by immersion...

 preacher
Preacher
Preacher is a term for someone who preaches sermons or gives homilies. A preacher is distinct from a theologian by focusing on the communication rather than the development of doctrine. Others see preaching and theology as being intertwined...

, tenant farmer
Tenant farmer
A tenant farmer is one who resides on and farms land owned by a landlord. Tenant farming is an agricultural production system in which landowners contribute their land and often a measure of operating capital and management; while tenant farmers contribute their labor along with at times varying...

, and carpenter
Carpentry
A carpenter is a skilled craftsperson who works with timber to construct, install and maintain buildings, furniture, and other objects. The work, known as carpentry, may involve manual labor and work outdoors....

, and her mother was a school teacher. She was born in Notasulga, Alabama
Notasulga, Alabama
Notasulga is a town in Lee and Macon Counties in the U.S. state of Alabama. As of the 2000 census, the population of the town is 916. The portion in Lee County is part of the Auburn Metropolitan Area. Author Zora Neale Hurston was born in Notasulga in 1891....

 in 1891 (Jan. 7, 1891), where her father grew up and her grandfather was the preacher of a Baptist church. Her family moved to Eatonville, Florida
Eatonville, Florida
Eatonville is a town in Orange County, Florida, six miles north of Orlando. It is part of the Orlando–Kissimmee metropolitan statistical area. The population was 2,432 at the 2000 census. As of 2006, the population recorded by the U.S...

, the first all-Black
African American
African Americans are citizens or residents of the United States who have at least partial ancestry from any of the native populations of Sub-Saharan Africa and are the direct descendants of enslaved Africans within the boundaries of the present United States...

 town to be incorporated in the United States, when she was three. Hurston said she always felt that Eatonville was "home" to her and sometimes claimed it as her birthplace Her father later became mayor
Mayor
In many countries, a Mayor is the highest ranking officer in the municipal government of a town or a large urban city....

 of the town, which Hurston would glorify in her stories as a place where African Americans could live as they desired, independent of white society. In 1901 some northern schoolteachers visited Eatonville and gave Hurston a number of books that opened her mind to literature, and this may be why she sometimes describes her "birth" as taking place in that year. Hurston spent the remainder of her childhood in Eatonville, and describes the experience of growing up in Eatonville in her 1928 essay "How It Feels to Be Colored Me".

In 1904, Hurston's mother died and her father remarried, to Matte Moge almost immediately, considered something of a minor scandal as it was rumored he had relations with Moge before Lucy died. Hurston's father and new stepmother sent her away to a boarding school in Jacksonville, Florida
Jacksonville, Florida
Jacksonville is the largest city in the U.S. state of Florida in terms of both population and land area, and the largest city by area in the contiguous United States. It is the county seat of Duval County, with which the city government consolidated in 1968...

, but they eventually stopped paying her tuition and the school expelled her. She later worked as a maid to the lead singer in a traveling Gilbert & Sullivan theatrical company. In 1917, Hurston began attending Morgan Academy, the high school division of the historically African American Morgan College
Morgan State University
Morgan State University, formerly Centenary Biblical Institute , Morgan College and Morgan State College , is a historically black college in Baltimore, Maryland, United States. Morgan is Maryland's designated public urban university and the largest HBCU in the state of Maryland...

 in Baltimore, Maryland. It was at this time, and apparently to qualify for a free high-school education (as well, perhaps to reflect her literary birth), that the 26-year-old Hurston began claiming 1901 as her date of birth. She graduated from Morgan Academy in 1918.

College


In 1918, Hurston began undergraduate studies at Howard University
Howard University
Howard University is a federally chartered, non-profit, private, coeducational, nonsectarian, historically black university located in Washington, D.C., United States...

, where she became one of the earliest initiates of Zeta Phi Beta
Zeta Phi Beta
Zeta Phi Beta is an international, historically black Greek-lettered sorority and a member of the National Pan-Hellenic Council.Zeta Phi Beta is organized into 800+ chapters, in eight intercontinental regions including the USA, Africa, Europe, Asia and the Caribbean...

 Sorority and co-founded The Hilltop
The Hilltop (newspaper)
The Hilltop is the student newspaper of Howard University, a historically Black college, located in Washington, D.C. Co-founded in 1924 by Harlem Renaissance writer Zora Neale Hurston and Louis Eugene King, the Hilltop is the first and only daily newspaper at a historically Black college or...

, the University's student newspaper. While there she took courses in Spanish, English, Greek and public speaking and earned an Associate's Degree in 1920. In 1921 she wrote an essay which qualified her to become a member of Alaine Locke's literary club, The Stylus. Hurston left Howard in 1924 and in 1925 was offered a scholarship to Barnard College
Barnard College
Barnard College is a private women's liberal arts college and a member of the Seven Sisters. Founded in 1889, Barnard has been affiliated with Columbia University since 1900. The campus stretches along Broadway between 116th and 120th Streets in the Morningside Heights neighborhood in the borough...

 where she was the college's sole black student. Hurston received her B.A.
Bachelor of Arts
A Bachelor of Arts , from the Latin artium baccalaureus, is a bachelor's degree awarded for an undergraduate course or program in either the liberal arts, the sciences, or both...

 in anthropology
Anthropology
Anthropology is the study of humanity. It has origins in the humanities, the natural sciences, and the social sciences. The term "anthropology" is from the Greek anthrōpos , "man", understood to mean mankind or humanity, and -logia , "discourse" or "study", and was first used in 1501 by German...

 in 1927, when she was 36. While she was at Barnard, she conducted ethnographic
Ethnography
Ethnography is a qualitative method aimed to learn and understand cultural phenomena which reflect the knowledge and system of meanings guiding the life of a cultural group...

 research with noted anthropologist Franz Boas
Franz Boas
Franz Boas was a German-American anthropologist and a pioneer of modern anthropology who has been called the "Father of American Anthropology" and "the Father of Modern Anthropology." Like many such pioneers, he trained in other disciplines; he received his doctorate in physics, and did...

 of Columbia University
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

. She also worked with Ruth Benedict
Ruth Benedict
Ruth Benedict was an American anthropologist, cultural relativist, and folklorist....

 as well as fellow anthropology student Margaret Mead
Margaret Mead
Margaret Mead was an American cultural anthropologist, who was frequently a featured writer and speaker in the mass media throughout the 1960s and 1970s....

. After graduating from Barnard, Hurston spent two years as a graduate student in anthropology at Columbia University.

Adulthood


In 1927, Hurston married Herbert Sheen, a jazz musician and former classmate at Howard who would later become a physician, but the marriage ended in 1931. In 1939, while Hurston was working for the WPA
Works Progress Administration
The Works Progress Administration was the largest and most ambitious New Deal agency, employing millions of unskilled workers to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads, and operated large arts, drama, media, and literacy projects...

, she married Albert Price, a 23-year-old fellow WPA employee, and 25 years her junior, but this marriage ended after only a few months.

She lived in a cottage in Eau Gallie, Florida
Eau Gallie, Florida
Eau Gallie was a city in Brevard County, Florida from 1857 until 1969 when citizens voted to merge with neighboring Melbourne, Florida. It is now a small district in the north part of the city, near the Eau Gallie Causeway. William Henry Gleason founded the city. From 1874 to 1878 it served as the...

, twice, once in 1929 and again in 1951.

During the 1930s, Hurston was a resident of Westfield, New Jersey
Westfield, New Jersey
Westfield is a town in Union County, New Jersey, United States. As of the 2010 United States Census, the town population was 30,316. The old village area, now the downtown district, was settled in 1720 as part of the Elizabethtown Tract....

, where Langston Hughes
Langston Hughes
James Mercer Langston Hughes was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist. He was one of the earliest innovators of the then-new literary art form jazz poetry. Hughes is best known for his work during the Harlem Renaissance...

 was among her neighbors.

In later life, in addition to continuing her literary career, Hurston served on the faculty of North Carolina College for Negroes (now North Carolina Central University
North Carolina Central University
North Carolina Central University is a public historically black university in the University of North Carolina system, located in Durham, North Carolina, offering programs at the baccalaureate, master’s, professional and doctoral levels....

) in Durham, North Carolina.

She also established, in 1934, a school of dramatic arts "based on pure Negro expression" at Bethune-Cookman University (at the time, Bethune-Cookman College) in Daytona Beach, FL.
In 1956 Hurston was bestowed the Bethune-Cookman College Award for Education and Human Relations in recognition of her vast achievements, and the English Department at Bethune-Cookman College remains dedicated to preserving her cultural legacy.

Anthropological and folkloric fieldwork


Hurston traveled extensively in the Caribbean and the American South and immersed herself in local cultural practices to conduct her anthropological research. Her work in the South, sponsored from 1928 to 1932 by Charlotte Osgood Mason
Charlotte Osgood Mason
Charlotte Osgood Mason Charlotte Osgood Mason Charlotte Osgood Mason (Born Charlotte Louise Van der Veer Quick (May 18, 1854, Princeton, New Jersey - April 15, 1946, New York City) was an American socialite and philanthropist....

, a wealthy philanthropist, produced Mules and Men in 1935, often regarded as a folklore classic, as well as the base material for novels like Jonah's Gourd Vine published in 1934.

In 1936 and 1937 she traveled to Jamaica and to Haiti with support from the Guggenheim Foundation
Guggenheim Foundation
Guggenheim Foundation may refer to one of the following:*The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation funds the Guggenheim Museums.*The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation awards grants to scientists, scholars and artists....

 from which her anthropological work Go Tell My Horse published in 1938 emerged.

She also lived in Honduras, at the north coastal town of Puerto Cortés
Puerto Cortés
-Geography:It is on the Caribbean Sea coast, north of San Pedro Sula and east of Omoa, at 15.85° N, 87.94° W. It has a natural bay.It is Honduras's main sea port and it is considered the most important seaport in Central America...

 from October 1947 to February 1948. Her trip to Central America was apparently occasioned by the idea of locating either Mayan ruins or vestiges of some other as yet undiscovered civilization. While in Puerto Cortés, she wrote much of Seraph on the Suwanee, a book which had nothing to do with Honduras, however. Hurston expressed interest in the poly ethnic nature of the population in the region (many of whom, such as the Miskito Zambu
Miskito Sambu
The Miskito Sambu are a mixed-race population group occupying the Caribbean coast of Central America, focused on the region of the Honduras-Nicaragua border...

 and Garifuna were in fact of partial African ancestry).

Later years


In 1948, Hurston was falsely accused of molesting a ten-year-old boy, and although the case was dismissed after Hurston presented evidence that she was in Honduras when the crime supposedly occurred in the U.S., her personal life was seriously disrupted by the scandal.

Hurston spent her last decade as a freelance
Freelancer
A freelancer, freelance worker, or freelance is somebody who is self-employed and is not committed to a particular employer long term. These workers are often represented by a company or an agency that resells their labor and that of others to its clients with or without project management and...

 writer for magazines and newspapers. She worked in a library in Cape Canaveral, Florida
Cape Canaveral, Florida
Cape Canaveral is a city in Brevard County, Florida, United States. The population was 8,829 at the 2000 census. As of 2008, the estimated population according to the U.S. Census Bureau was 10,147...

, and as a substitute teacher and maid in Fort Pierce
Fort Pierce, Florida
Fort Pierce, also spelled Ft. Pierce, is a city in St. Lucie County, Florida, USA. It is known as The Sunrise City. The population was 37,959 at the 2004 census. As of 2008, the population recorded by the U.S. Census Bureau is 41,000. It is the county seat of St. Lucie County.Fort Pierce is part...

.

Death


During a period of financial and medical difficulties, Hurston was forced to enter St. Lucie County Welfare Home, where she suffered a stroke; she died of hypertensive heart disease
Hypertensive heart disease
Hypertensive heart disease is any of a number of complications of arterial hypertension that affects the heart.-Symptoms:* Fatigue* Cardiomegaly* Irregular pulse* Swelling of feet* Weight gain* Nausea* Shortness of breath...

 on January 28, 1960, and was buried at the Garden of Heavenly Rest in Fort Pierce, Florida. Her remains were in an unmarked grave until 1973, when African-American novelist Alice Walker
Alice Walker
Alice Malsenior Walker is an American author, poet, and activist. She has written both fiction and essays about race and gender...

 and literary scholar Charlotte Hunt found an unmarked grave in the general area where Hurston had been buried, and decided to mark it as hers.

1920s


When Hurston arrived in New York City in 1925, the Harlem Renaissance
Harlem Renaissance
The Harlem Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned the 1920s and 1930s. At the time, it was known as the "New Negro Movement", named after the 1925 anthology by Alain Locke...

 was at its peak, and she soon became one of the writers at its center. Shortly before she entered Barnard, Hurston's short story “Spunk” was selected for The New Negro
The New Negro
The New Negro: An Interpretation is an anthology of fiction, poetry, and essays on African and African American art and literature edited by Alain Locke, who lived in Washington, DC and taught at Howard University during the Harlem Renaissance...

, a landmark anthology of fiction, poetry, and essays focusing on African and African American art and literature. In 1926, a group of young black writers including Hurston, Langston Hughes
Langston Hughes
James Mercer Langston Hughes was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist. He was one of the earliest innovators of the then-new literary art form jazz poetry. Hughes is best known for his work during the Harlem Renaissance...

, and Wallace Thurman
Wallace Thurman
Wallace Henry Thurman was an American novelist during the Harlem Renaissance. He is best known for his novel The Blacker the Berry: A Novel of Negro Life, which explores discrimination among black people based on skin color.-Early life:...

, calling themselves the Niggerati
Niggerati
The Niggerati was the name used, with deliberate irony, by Wallace Thurman for the group of young African American artists and intellectuals of the Harlem Renaissance. "Niggerati" is a portmanteau of "nigger" and "literati". The rooming house where he lived, and where that group often met, was...

, produced a literary magazine called Fire!!
Fire!!
Fire!! was an African American literary magazine published in 1926 during the Harlem Renaissance. The publication was started by Wallace Thurman, Zora Neale Hurston, Aaron Douglas, John P...

that featured many of the young artists and writers of the Harlem Renaissance
Harlem Renaissance
The Harlem Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned the 1920s and 1930s. At the time, it was known as the "New Negro Movement", named after the 1925 anthology by Alain Locke...

.

1930s


By the mid-1930s, Hurston had published several short stories and the critically acclaimed Mules and Men (1935), a groundbreaking work of "literary anthropology" documenting African American folklore
Folklore
Folklore consists of legends, music, oral history, proverbs, jokes, popular beliefs, fairy tales and customs that are the traditions of a culture, subculture, or group. It is also the set of practices through which those expressive genres are shared. The study of folklore is sometimes called...

. In 1930, she also collaborated with Langston Hughes on Mule Bone: A Comedy of Negro Life in Three Acts
Mule Bone
Mule Bone: A Comedy of Negro Life is a 1930 play by American authors Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston. The process of writing the play led Hughes and Hurston, who had been close friends, to sever their relationship. Mule Bone was not staged until 1991.-Characters:Jim Weston: A guitarist and...

, a play that was never finished, although it was published posthumously in 1991.
In 1937, Hurston was awarded a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship
Guggenheim Fellowship
Guggenheim Fellowships are American grants that have been awarded annually since 1925 by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation to those "who have demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts." Each year, the foundation makes...

 to conduct ethnographic research in Jamaica
Jamaica
Jamaica is an island nation of the Greater Antilles, in length, up to in width and 10,990 square kilometres in area. It is situated in the Caribbean Sea, about south of Cuba, and west of Hispaniola, the island harbouring the nation-states Haiti and the Dominican Republic...

 and Haiti
Haiti
Haiti , officially the Republic of Haiti , is a Caribbean country. It occupies the western, smaller portion of the island of Hispaniola, in the Greater Antillean archipelago, which it shares with the Dominican Republic. Ayiti was the indigenous Taíno or Amerindian name for the island...

. Tell My Horse (1938) documents her account of her fieldwork studying African rituals in Jamaica and voudon rituals in Haiti. Hurston also translated her anthropological work into the performing arts, and her folk revue, The Great Day premiered at the John Golden Theatre in New York in 1932.

Hurston's first three novels were also published in the 1930s: Jonah's Gourd Vine (1934); Their Eyes Were Watching God
Their Eyes Were Watching God
Their Eyes Were Watching God is a 1937 novel and the best-known work by African American writer Zora Neale Hurston. Set in central and southern Florida in the early 20th century, the novel garnered attention and controversy at the time of its publication, and has come to be regarded as a seminal...

(1937), written during her fieldwork in Haiti and considered her masterwork; and Moses, Man of the Mountain (1939).

1940s/1950s


In the 1940s, Hurston's work was published in such periodicals as The American Mercury
The American Mercury
The American Mercury was an American magazine published from 1924 to 1981. It was founded as the brainchild of H. L. Mencken and drama critic George Jean Nathan. The magazine featured writing by some of the most important writers in the United States through the 1920s and 1930s...

and The Saturday Evening Post
The Saturday Evening Post
The Saturday Evening Post is a bimonthly American magazine. It was published weekly under this title from 1897 until 1969, and quarterly and then bimonthly from 1971.-History:...

. Her last published novel, Seraph on the Suwanee, notable principally for its focus on white characters, was published in 1948. It explores images of 'white trash' women. Jackson (2000) argues that Hurston's meditation on abjection, waste, and the construction of class and gender identities among poor whites reflects the eugenics
Eugenics
Eugenics is the "applied science or the bio-social movement which advocates the use of practices aimed at improving the genetic composition of a population", usually referring to human populations. The origins of the concept of eugenics began with certain interpretations of Mendelian inheritance,...

 discourses of the 1920s.

In 1954, Hurston was assigned by the Pittsburgh Courier
Pittsburgh Courier
The Pittsburgh Courier was an American newspaper published in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which was published from 1907 to 1965. Once the country's most widely circulated Black newspaper, the legacy and influence of the Pittsburgh Courier is unparalleled.A pillar of the Black Press, it rose...

to cover the small-town murder trial of Ruby McCollum
Ruby McCollum
Ruby McCollum was the subject of a notorious murder trial in 1952. She was convicted of killing Dr. C. Leroy Adams, whom she accused of forcing her to submit to sex and bear his child....

, the prosperous black wife of the local bolita
Bolita
Bolita , is a type of lottery which was popular in the latter 19th and early 20th centuries in Cuba and among Florida's working class Hispanic, Italian, and black population. In the basic bolita game, 100 small numbered balls are placed into a bag and mixed thoroughly, and bets are taken on which...

 racketeer, who had killed a racist white doctor. She also contributed to Woman in the Suwannee County Jail, a book by journalist and civil rights advocate William Bradford Huie
William Bradford Huie
William Bradford "Bill" Huie was an American journalist, editor, publisher, television interviewer, screenwriter, lecturer, and novelist.-Biography:...

. In 2008, The Library of America selected excerpts from this work for inclusion in its two-century retrospective of American True Crime writing.

Public obscurity


Hurston's work slid into obscurity for decades, for a number of cultural and political reasons.

Many readers objected to the representation of African American dialect
African American Vernacular English
African American Vernacular English —also called African American English; less precisely Black English, Black Vernacular, Black English Vernacular , or Black Vernacular English —is an African American variety of American English...

 in Hurston's novels, given the racially charged history of dialect fiction in American literature. Her stylistic choices in terms of dialogue were influenced by her academic experiences. Thinking like a folklorist, Hurston strove to represent speech patterns of the period which she documented through ethnographic research. For example, a character in Jonah's Gourd Vine expresses herself in this manner:
"Dat's a big ole resurrection lie, Ned. Uh slew-foot, drag-leg lie at dat, and Ah dare yuh tuh hit me too. You know Ahm uh fightin' dawg and mah hide is worth money. Hit me if you dare! Ah'll wash yo' tub uh 'gator guts and dat quick."


Several of Hurston's literary contemporaries criticized Hurston's use of dialect as a caricature of African American culture rooted in a racist tradition. More recently, many critics have praised Hurston's skillful use of idiomatic speech. In particular, a number of writers associated with the Harlem Renaissance were critical of Hurston's later writings, on the basis that they did not agree with or further the position of the overall movement. One particular criticism came from Richard Wright
Richard Wright (author)
Richard Nathaniel Wright was an African-American author of sometimes controversial novels, short stories, poems, and non-fiction. Much of his literature concerns racial themes, especially those involving the plight of African-Americans during the late 19th to mid 20th centuries...

 in his review of Their Eyes Were Watching God:
... The sensory sweep of her novel carries no theme, no message, no thought. In the main, her novel is not addressed to the Negro, but to a white audience whose chauvinistic tastes she knows how to satisfy. She exploits that phase of Negro life which is "quaint," the phase which evokes a piteous smile on the lips of the "superior" race.


During the 1930s and 1940s when her work was published, the pre-eminent African American author was Richard Wright. Unlike Hurston, Wright wrote in explicitly political terms, as someone who had become disenchanted with communism, using the struggle of African Americans for respect and economic advancement as both the setting and the motivation for his work. Other popular African American authors of the time, such as Ralph Ellison
Ralph Ellison
Ralph Waldo Ellison was an American novelist, literary critic, scholar and writer. He was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Ellison is best known for his novel Invisible Man, which won the National Book Award in 1953...

, were also aligned with Wright's vision.
Hurston's work, which did not engage these political issues, did not fit in with this struggle. In 1951, for example, Hurston argued that New Deal economic support created a harmful dependency by African Americans on the government, and that this dependency ceded too much power to politicians.

Posthumous recognition


An article, "In Search of Zora Neale Hurston", by Alice Walker
Alice Walker
Alice Malsenior Walker is an American author, poet, and activist. She has written both fiction and essays about race and gender...

 was published in the March 1975 issue of Ms. magazine. This article revived interest in her work. The reemergence of Hurston's work coincided with the emergence of authors such as Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison is a Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist, editor, and professor. Her novels are known for their epic themes, vivid dialogue, and richly detailed characters. Among her best known novels are The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon and Beloved...

, Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou is an American author and poet who has been called "America's most visible black female autobiographer" by scholar Joanne M. Braxton. She is best known for her series of six autobiographical volumes, which focus on her childhood and early adult experiences. The first and most highly...

, and Walker herself, whose works are centered on African American
African American
African Americans are citizens or residents of the United States who have at least partial ancestry from any of the native populations of Sub-Saharan Africa and are the direct descendants of enslaved Africans within the boundaries of the present United States...

 experiences and include, but do not necessarily focus upon, racial struggle.

Biographies of Hurston include Zora Neale Hurston: A Literary Biography by Robert Hemenway
Robert Hemenway
Robert Emery Hemenway was the 16th chancellor of the University of Kansas .-Biography:Hemenway arrived at KU in 1995 as the successor to interim chancellor, Del Shankel. Prior to his tenure at KU, Hemenway served as chancellor of the University of Kentucky from 1989–1995 and Dean of Arts and...

, Wrapped in Rainbows by Valerie Boyd
Valerie Boyd
Valerie Boyd is a widely published journalist, author, and cultural critic, best known for the critically acclaimed biography, Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston.-Biography:Boyd was born on December 11, 1963, in Atlanta...

, Zora Neale Hurston: A Biography of the Spirit by Deborah G. Plant, and Speak So You Can Speak Again by Hurston's niece, Lucy Anne Hurston. Her hometown of Eatonville, Florida
Eatonville, Florida
Eatonville is a town in Orange County, Florida, six miles north of Orlando. It is part of the Orlando–Kissimmee metropolitan statistical area. The population was 2,432 at the 2000 census. As of 2006, the population recorded by the U.S...

 celebrates her life in an annual festival.

In 2001, "Every Tongue Got to Confess" was published posthumously. The book was a collection of field materials Hurston had gathered in the late 1920s to create her book "Mules and Men". Originally titled "Folktales from the Gulf States", filmmaker Kristy Andersen had discovered the previously unknown collection of folk tales while researching the Smithsonian archives when they were placed in computer catalogs in 1997.

Hurston's house
Zora Neale Hurston House
The Zora Neale Hurston House was the home of author Zora Neale Hurston in Fort Pierce, Florida. It was originally located at 1734 School Court but was moved north 500 feet in 1995 to 1734 Avenue L to allow for expansion of Lincoln Park Academy, the school at which Hurston taught. On December 4,...

 in Fort Pierce is a National Historic Landmark.
Fort Pierce celebrates Hurston annually through various events such as Hattitudes, birthday parties, and a several-day festival at the end of April known as Zora Fest. Her life and legacy are also celebrated every year in Eatonville, the town that inspired her, at the Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities.

In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante
Molefi Kete Asante
Molefi Kete Asante is an African-American scholar, historian, and philosopher. He is a leading figure in the fields of African American studies, African Studies and Communication Studies...

 listed Zora Neale Hurston on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans
100 Greatest African Americans
100 Greatest African Americans is a biographical dictionary of the one hundred historically greatest African Americans , as assessed by Molefi Kete Asante in 2002.-Criteria:...

.

Politics


John McWhorter
John McWhorter
John Hamilton McWhorter V is an American linguist and political commentator. He is the author of a number of books on language and on race relations. His linguistic specialty is creole and the process through which it forms.-Early life:...

 has called Hurston "America's favorite black conservative" while David T. Beito
David T. Beito
David T. Beito is a historian and professor of history at the University of Alabama. He is the author of Taxpayers in Revolt: Tax Resistance during the Great Depression ; From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State: Fraternal Societies and Social Services, 1890-1967 ; The Voluntary City: Choice,...

 and Linda Royster Beito
Linda Royster Beito
Linda Royster Beito is chair of the department of social sciences at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.-Biography:Beito was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. She earned her Ph.D...

 have argued that she can better be characterized as a "libertarian." She was a Republican who was generally sympathetic to the foreign policy non-interventionism of the Old Right
Old Right (United States)
The Old Right was a conservative faction in the United States that opposed both New Deal domestic programs and U.S. entry into World War II. Many members of this faction were associated with the Republicans of the interwar years led by Robert Taft, but some were Democrats...

 and a fan of Booker T. Washington
Booker T. Washington
Booker Taliaferro Washington was an American educator, author, orator, and political leader. He was the dominant figure in the African-American community in the United States from 1890 to 1915...

's self-help politics. She disagreed with the philosophies (including Communism
Communism
Communism is a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of a classless, moneyless, revolutionary and stateless socialist society structured upon common ownership of the means of production...

 and the New Deal
New Deal
The New Deal was a series of economic programs implemented in the United States between 1933 and 1936. They were passed by the U.S. Congress during the first term of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The programs were Roosevelt's responses to the Great Depression, and focused on what historians call...

) supported by many of her colleagues in the Harlem Renaissance, such as Langston Hughes
Langston Hughes
James Mercer Langston Hughes was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist. He was one of the earliest innovators of the then-new literary art form jazz poetry. Hughes is best known for his work during the Harlem Renaissance...

, who was in the 1930s a supporter of the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 and praised it in several of his poems. Despite much common ground with the Old Right in domestic and foreign policy, Hurston was not a social conservative. Her writings show skepticism toward traditional religion and affinity for feminist individualism. In this respect, her views were similar to two libertarian
Libertarianism
Libertarianism, in the strictest sense, is the political philosophy that holds individual liberty as the basic moral principle of society. In the broadest sense, it is any political philosophy which approximates this view...

 novelists who were her contemporaries, Rose Wilder Lane
Rose Wilder Lane
Rose Wilder Lane was an American journalist, travel writer, novelist, and political theorist...

 and Isabel Paterson
Isabel Paterson
Isabel Paterson was a Canadian-American journalist, novelist, political philosopher, and a leading literary critic of her day. Along with Rose Wilder Lane and Ayn Rand, who both acknowledged an intellectual debt to Paterson, she is one of the three founding mothers of American libertarianism...

.

In 1952, Hurston supported the presidential campaign of Senator Robert A. Taft. Like Taft, Hurston was against Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt , also known by his initials, FDR, was the 32nd President of the United States and a central figure in world events during the mid-20th century, leading the United States during a time of worldwide economic crisis and world war...

's New Deal policies. She also shared his opposition to Roosevelt's and Truman
Harry S. Truman
Harry S. Truman was the 33rd President of the United States . As President Franklin D. Roosevelt's third vice president and the 34th Vice President of the United States , he succeeded to the presidency on April 12, 1945, when President Roosevelt died less than three months after beginning his...

's interventionist foreign policy. In the original draft of her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road, Hurston compared the United States government to a "fence" in stolen goods and to a Mafia
Mafia
The Mafia is a criminal syndicate that emerged in the mid-nineteenth century in Sicily, Italy. It is a loose association of criminal groups that share a common organizational structure and code of conduct, and whose common enterprise is protection racketeering...

-like protection racket. Hurston thought it ironic that the same “people who claim that it is a noble thing to die for freedom and democracy ... wax frothy if anyone points out the inconsistency of their morals. ... We, too, consider machine gun bullets good laxatives for heathens who get constipated with toxic ideas about a country of their own.” She was scathing about those who sought "freedoms" for those abroad, but denied it to people in their home countries: Roosevelt "can call names across an ocean" for his Four Freedoms
Four Freedoms
The Four Freedoms were goals articulated by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt on January 6, 1941. In an address known as the Four Freedoms speech , he proposed four fundamental freedoms that people "everywhere in the world" ought to enjoy:# Freedom of speech and expression# Freedom of worship#...

, but he did not have “the courage to speak even softly at home.” When Truman dropped the atomic bombs on Japan
Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
During the final stages of World War II in 1945, the United States conducted two atomic bombings against the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, the first on August 6, 1945, and the second on August 9, 1945. These two events are the only use of nuclear weapons in war to date.For six months...

, she called him “the Butcher of Asia.”

Hurston opposed the Supreme Court
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

 ruling in the Brown v. Board of Education
Brown v. Board of Education
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 , was a landmark decision of the United States Supreme Court that declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students unconstitutional. The decision overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896 which...

case of 1954. She felt that if separate schools were truly equal (and she believed that they were rapidly becoming so) educating black students in physical proximity to white students would not result in better education. In addition, she worried about the demise of black schools and black teachers as a way to pass on cultural tradition to future generations of African-Americans. She voiced this opposition in a letter, "Court Order Can't Make the Races Mix", that was published in the Orlando Sentinel
Orlando Sentinel
The Orlando Sentinel is the primary newspaper of the Orlando, Florida region. It was founded in 1876. The Sentinel is owned by Tribune Company and is overseen by the Chicago Tribune. As of 2005, the Sentinel’s president and publisher was Kathleen Waltz; she announced her resignation in February 2008...

in August 1955. Hurston had not reversed her long-time opposition to segregation. Rather, she feared that the Court's ruling could become a precedent for an all-powerful federal government to undermine individual liberty on a broad range of issues in the future. Hurston also opposed preferential treatment for African-Americans, saying:


If I say a whole system must be upset for me to win, I am saying that I cannot sit in the game, and that safer rules must be made to give me a chance. I repudiate that. If others are in there, deal me a hand and let me see what I can make of it, even though I know some in there are dealing from the bottom and cheating like hell in other ways.

Published as

  • Novels & Stories: Jonah's Gourd Vine, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Moses, Man of the Mountain, Seraph on the Suwanee, Selected Stories (Cheryl A. Wall, ed.) (Library of America
    Library of America
    The Library of America is a nonprofit publisher of classic American literature.- Overview and history :Founded in 1979 with seed money from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Ford Foundation, the LoA has published over 200 volumes by a wide range of authors from Mark Twain to Philip...

    , 1995) ISBN 978-0-94045083-7

  • Folklore, Memoirs, & Other Writings: Mules and Men, Tell My Horse, Dust Tracks on a Road, Selected Articles (Cheryl A. Wall, ed.) (Library of America, 1995) ISBN 978-0-94045084-4

Film and television


In 1989 PBS
Public Broadcasting Service
The Public Broadcasting Service is an American non-profit public broadcasting television network with 354 member TV stations in the United States which hold collective ownership. Its headquarters is in Arlington, Virginia....

 aired a drama based on Hurston's life titled Zora is My Name!.

The 2004 film Brother to Brother, set in part during the Harlem Renaissance, featured Hurston (portrayed by Aunjanue Ellis
Aunjanue Ellis
Aunjanue L. Ellis is an American actress known for her roles in Ray, in Undercover Brother, and on The Mentalist....

).

Their Eyes Were Watching God was adapted for a 2005 film of the same title
Their Eyes Were Watching God (2005 television)
Their Eyes Were Watching God is an American Broadcasting Company television movie aired on March 6, 2005 at 9pm based upon Zora Neale Hurston's 1937 novel of the same name...

 by Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey is an American media proprietor, talk show host, actress, producer and philanthropist. Winfrey is best known for her self-titled, multi-award-winning talk show, which has become the highest-rated program of its kind in history and was nationally syndicated from 1986 to 2011...

's Harpo Productions
Harpo Productions
Harpo Productions, Inc. is an incorporated US-based multimedia production company founded by Oprah Winfrey . It also includes Harpo Films & Harpo Radio, Inc....

, with a teleplay by Suzan-Lori Parks
Suzan-Lori Parks
Suzan-Lori Parks is an African American playwright and screenwriter. She received the MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Grant in 2001, and the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for her play, Topdog/Underdog.-Early years:...

. The film starred Halle Berry
Halle Berry
Halle Berry is an American actress and a former fashion model. Berry received an Emmy, Golden Globe, SAG, and an NAACP Image Award for Introducing Dorothy Dandridge and won an Academy Award for Best Actress and was nominated for a BAFTA Award in 2001 for her performance in Monster's Ball, becoming...

 as Janie Starks.

On April 9, 2008 PBS broadcast a 90-minute documentary Zora Neale Hurston: Jump at the Sun written and produced by filmmaker Kristy Andersen, as part of the American Masters
American Masters
American Masters is a PBS television show which produces biographies on the artists, actors and writers of the United States who have left a profound impact on the nation's popular culture. It is produced by WNET in New York City...

series.

In 2009, Hurston was featured in a 90-minute documentary about the WPA Writers' Project titled Soul of a People: Writing America's Story, which premiered on the Smithsonian Channel. Her work in Florida during the 1930s is also highlighted in the companion book, Soul of a People: The WPA Writers' Project Uncovers Depression America.

See also


  • African American literature
    African American literature
    African-American literature is the body of literature produced in the United States by writers of African descent. The genre traces its origins to the works of such late 18th century writers as Phillis Wheatley and Olaudah Equiano, reaching early high points with slave narratives and the Harlem...

  • Ruby McCollum
    Ruby McCollum
    Ruby McCollum was the subject of a notorious murder trial in 1952. She was convicted of killing Dr. C. Leroy Adams, whom she accused of forcing her to submit to sex and bear his child....

  • Kevin Brown (author)
    Kevin Brown (author)
    Kevin Brown is a biographer, essayist and translator who has authored or contributed to three books.Kevin Brown has published brief lives of Romare Bearden and Malcolm X...


External links