10 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. Here are some fascinating facts about Zora Neale Hurston that shed light on her complicated life and legacy.

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. 

. . . . . . . . . .

zora neale hurston smoking

Zora Neale Hurston Interview (1934)

. . . . . . . . . . 

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. 

. . . . . . . . . .

Their Eyes were watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Quotes from Their Eyes Were Watching God
. . . . . . . . . . 

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.

. . . . . . . . . .

Zora Neale Hurston facts

. . . . . . . . . .

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. Being a black female author didn’t pay her expenses.

The largest royalty she had ever received from any of her literary works was $943. Due to a steady lack of financial reward, she had to work at various jobs for extra income, even though she was a well established author. Her later years were marred by utter financial ruin.


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. Some literary critics felt her work was a form of entertainment for white audiences. 

Author Richard Wright was among her most vocal detractors; he referred to Hurston’s style as a “minstrel technique” designed to appeal to the white community. Literary history has, of course, vindicated Hurston.

. . . . . . . . . . 

Zora Neale Hurston Books

Zora Neale Hurston books on Bookshop.org*
Zora Neale Hurston page on Amazon*
. . . . . . . . . . 

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.


She was married three times

Although Hurston was married three times, none of her marriages lasted more than a couple years. In 1927, she was married for the first time to her husband Herbert Sheen. He was a jazz musician and former teacher at Howard University. 

Her next, and shortest, marriage was to Albert Price who she met in 1939 while working for the WPA in Florida. Their marriage lasted a short seven months, although they didn’t divorce until 1943. she married again shortly the following year to a James Howell Pitts of Cleveland. This one, much like her last one, lasted less than a year.

. . . . . . . . . .

She had a feud with Langston Hughes

Hurston and Hughes were opposing personalities. She was the folksy anthropologist, novelist, and playwright with a style reflecting her Southern roots. He was an urbane poet. But they shared the same literary mission: to capture the black vernacular on page as a means of reflecting the complexity of the black experience. With this commonality, they became fast friends.

Hurston and Hughes were never romantically involved, but they shared a powerful emotional bond that Hurston guarded fiercely. The feud started when Hughes and Hurston came up with the idea of collaborating on a folk play, Mule Bone, which was to meld the two authors’ talents.

They worked on the play together and apart. Hurston came to think of it as her play, and Hughes came to think of it as his. They each had their own versions of the play copyrighted. And they both sought legal recourse to the other’s infringement. It was a messy dispute that led to a creative standstill, and it ended their close relationship.

The play would go on to be staged in 1991, long after Hurston and Hughes had passed away. 

. . . . . . . . . .

Zora Neale Hurston
Zora on Books, Publishing, & Publishers
. . . . . . . . . .

Larrisa Pope is a 2019 SUNY New Paltz graduate with a degree in International Business and Public Relations. She is passionate about keeping the legacies of iconic female authors alive.

*These are Bookshop Affiliate and Amazon Affiliate links. If a product is purchased by linking through, Literary Ladies Guide receives a modest commission, which helps maintain our site and helps it to continue growing!

15 Responses to “10 Fascinating Facts About Zora Neale Hurston”

  1. Had I known about Zora Neal Hurston as a high school student, I would have majored in Anthropology when I was in college. She was brilliant in her day, and is even more brilliant today.

  2. I once had a book called voices of the Harlem Renaissance and there was a story in that book that she wrote called Spunk. And if you ever get to read it, you will see similarities in The Color Purple written by Alice Walker. To me she was a brilliant writer because she spoke as the people she wrote about.

  3. 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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *