Zora Neale Hurston Anthropologist and Author

Zora Neale Hurston Anthropologist and Author

Posted by Deco London on

Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston was an anthropologist, novelist and folklorist, who wrote about the racial struggles in the American south.  Known as the queen of the Harlem Renaissance during the 1920s, with a career that spanned more than 30 years, Zora published four novels, two books of folklore, an autobiography, numerous short stories, several essays, articles and plays.

Zora pictured in Eatonville, Florida

Born on Januray 7, 1891, in Notasulga, Alabama, Zora grew up in Eatonville, Florida, the first self-governing all-black town in the USA.  She described it as “a city of five lakes, three croquet courts, three hundred brown skins, three hundred good swimmers, plenty guavas, two schools, and no jailhouse.” 
Following the death of her mother in 1904, Zora dropped out of school.  After what she called “years of wandering”, she returned to school aged 26, pretending to be a 16 year old to qualify for free education.  After her graduation, Zora went to study at Howard University in Washington, receiving an associate degree in 1920.  In 1921, she published her first story, 'John Redding Goes to Sea', in the University literary society magazine.  

Zora with Langston Hughes 1920s

Between 1925 and 1927, Zora studied anthropology at Barnard College with Franz Boas, who she went on to work for in Harlem, New York. It was here in Harlem she met poet Langston Hughes and novelist Wallace Thurman, who were central figures in the 1920s Harlem Renaissance; the flowering of black intellectual, literary, and artistic life. 


By, 1935, Zora was working as an anthropologist, collecting black southern folktales through her work.  During this time, she published several short stories, articles and a novel ‘Jonah’s Gourd Vine’ plus a collection of black Southern folklore stories ‘Mules and Men’

In 1937, she received a Guggenheim Fellowship to study voodoo culture in Jamaica and Haiti, where she wrote her masterpiece ‘Their Eyes were Watching God’, a feminist novel about a black woman coming to consciousness. She went on to write ‘Moses, Man of the Mountain’ in 1939 and her autobiography ‘Dust Tracks on a Road’ in 1942, which finally gave her the acclaim that had long eluded her.  That year, she was profiled in ‘Who’s Who in America’ and was featured on the cover of the Saturday Review.  

Zora continued her anthropology work and wrote numerous short stories throughout the 1940s and 1950s.  In 1959, she suffered a stroke and died in 1960, penniless, with her work in relative obscurity.  She was buried in an unmarked grave in the ‘Garden of Heavenly Rest’ in Fort Pierce, Florida.

Zora Neale Hurston, photographed by the Evening Post circa 1956

In 1973, Alice Walker, writer of ‘The Color Purple’ came to Fort Pierce to find out more about Zora, whose writings had inspired her.  After finding the unmarked grave, she installed a headstone with the words ‘A Genius of the South’ carved upon it.  

'Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick' is a new collection of Zora's Harlem Renaissance-era short stories, published by Harper Collins.

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