Fascinating Facts About Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston (January 7, 1891 – January 28, 1960), was an African-American novelist, memoirist, and folklorist. Zora was a natural storyteller. As she grew up, she had listened to the stories of people she encountered. Her love of story would lead her not only to create her own, but to collect stories from the oral traditions of the African-American South and the Black cultures of the Caribbean.

With her determined intelligence and humor, she quickly became a big name in the Harlem Renaissance movement of the 1920s. She had a dual career as a writer (producing novels, short stories, plays, and essays) and as an anthropologist.


She held odd jobs to support her education and writing

In order to start saving money for all of her future academic endeavors, Zora held many jobs. In the summer of 1918 Zora worked as a waitress in a nightclub, and as a manicurist in a black-owned barbershop that served only whites. 

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zora neale hurston smoking

Zora Neale Hurston Interview (1934)

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She was Fannie Hurst’s assistant

Hurston worked as an assistant to one of the most successful writers of the era, Fannie Hurst. The two met at Opportunity‘s literary awards event in 1925, where Hurston won numerous awards.

The role of employment was extremely controversial at the time due to the fact that Hurston was black, and Hurt was white and Jewish. Despite this, the two had a friendship that lasted the duration of their life. Both Fannie and Zora wrote about their marginalized identities and oppression as underlying themes in their stories. Ironically, though Fannie Hurst was one of the era’s most famous and well-paid writers, today her work is largely forgotten, while Zora’s is revered. Read more about the friendship of these two literary women.

 

She was an accomplished anthropologist

Hurston turned heads in 1925, as she won awards for her work “Spunk” and “Color Struck” after submitting it to Opportunity magazine’s literary contest. That same year, Hurston became the first black student at Bernard College, the women’s college connected to Columbia University. During her time here, she studied anthropology.

In 1936 Hurston won the Guggenheim fellowship. Under this she traveled to Jamaica and Haiti to study and practice voodoo rituals for her research. During her stay on the fellowship, Hurston wrote what would be her most famous work: Their Eyes Were Watching God. Although the novel was criticized when first published, it would later become a highly acclaimed work of fiction. 

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zora neale hurston

Quotes from Their Eyes Were Watching God

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She was 10 years older than she claimed to be

Hurston lied about her age, claiming she was 16, when in reality she was ten years older. This was done at a time where you needed to be a teenager in order to qualify for free public schooling. And so thats just what she did, living as a 16-year-old in order to finish high school.

Hurston would never correct the change in age she made for herself, continuing to present herself as 10 years younger for the rest of her life. 

 

She grew up in America’s first planned black community

Eatonville, Florida was the first planned black community in the United States.  Hurston 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.”

The community was established in 1887, and it was filled with black excellence at every corner.  Black men filled Town Hall, including Hurston’s own father, who was the mayor of the small community. With all of the Black pride and accomplishment around her, Hurston was destined for greatness.

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Zora Neale Hurston

Crazy for This Democracy

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She barely made money from her work

Hurston lived in poverty for most of her life. This forced her to take up other jobs that strayed from her true passion. Unfortunately her passion didn’t prove to be frugal. Being a black female author didn’t pay her dues.

The largest royalty she had ever received from any of her literary works was $943. Due to her steady lack of financial reward, she had to work as a maid for extra income, even though she was a well established author. 

 

Her grave remained unmarked for over a decade

Dying in abject poverty, there was no money to  afford a headstone when she passed in 1960. Due to these lack of finances, her grave remained unmarked for many years.

In 1973 Alice Walker, then a young author who drew inspiration from Hurston, traveled to her gravesite and marked. She believed that Zora was deserved to be rediscovered, and dubbed her “Genius of the South.” Walker would go on to publish an essay In Search of Zora Neale Hurston, which helped introduce Zora’s legacy to new generations of readers. In turn, this encouraged publishers to print new editions of Hurston’s novels and other writings.

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Zora Neale HurstonBooks, Publishing, & Publishers

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She was controversial within the black literary community

Hurston used entirely black southern vernacular in a number of her literary works.  For this she received a lot of criticism in the black community. This was because many felt her work was a form of entertainment for white audiences. 

Author Richard Wright referred to Hurston’s style as a “minstrel technique” designed to appeal to the white community. 

2 Responses to “Fascinating Facts About Zora Neale Hurston”

  1. Thank you for writing about Miss Zora Neal Hurston. What about her long standing “fight” after falling out with poet Langston Hughes and a yet unpublished manuscript? This was news to me..a fascinating story.

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