The Last Word

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    It's fitting that author, folklorist, anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston should have the last word in our Black History Month celebration. Though she received praise and awards for her work while alive, she didn't achieved the commercial success and universal renown due her. Despite the criticism and dismissiveness her work sometimes received, she persisted, fully embracing her own art and style. Now, 61 years after her death, her reputation has outlasted many of her critics'. 

Day 26 - Z is for Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston

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    Zora Neale Hurston: Colorful doesn't begin to desscribe the life of this fascinating lady. Born in 1891, she grew up in an all black town of Eatonville, FL, far removed from the esteem destroying influence of Jim Crow. She graduated high school at age 26, shaving 10 years off her age to enroll and graduate. She arrived in Harlem with $1.50 in her pocket and latched on to luminaries of the Harlem Renaissance, like Langston Hughes and was the life of every party she attended. All the while, she wrote. 


    Her short stories, novels and essays reflected her unorthodox approach to the world and her determinatiion to walk her own way. Her writing, which prominently featured Black dialect, was derided by the likes of Richard Wright as fanciful and lacking depth. She was unapologetic about her approach, and her signature novel Their Eyes Were Watching God defied norms by placing the life of a Black woman in a Black community at the center. Her work reflected a sense of “racial health” and “easy self-acceptance.”




    "Hurston was in revolt against a black northern elitist culture that rejected the values of the black South as well as its people, and she was embarking on a creative process of reclaiming southern, poor, black women from the dustbin of history." Hurston did not get her due acclaim until after her death in 1960, when writer Alice Walker, who located Hurston's unmarked FL grave in 1973, published "In Search of Zora Neale Hurston" in Ms. magazine in1975. The renewed interest in her work has persisted ever since. 


    The Life of Zora Neale Hurston

    • January 7, 1891
      Born in Notasulga, Alabama, the fifth of eight children, to John Hurston, a carpenter and Baptist preacher, and Lucy Potts Hurston, a former schoolteacher.
    • 1919 - 1924
      Attends Howard University; receives an associate degree in 1920.
    • 1925 - 1927
      Attends Barnard College, studying anthropology with Franz Boas.
    • 1928
      Receives a bachelor of arts degree in anthropology from Barnard.
    • May - June 1930
      Works on the play Mule Bone with Langston Hughes.
    • January 1934
      Goes to Bethune-Cookman College to establish a school of dramatic arts “based on pure Negro expression.”
    • September - March 1937
      In Haiti; writes Their Eyes Were Watching God in seven weeks.
    • October 1941-January 1942
      Works as a story consultant at Paramount Pictures.
    • May 1947
      Goes to British Honduras to research black communities in Central America; writes Seraph on the Suwanee; stays in Honduras until March 1948.
    • 1958
      Works as a substitute teacher at Lincoln Park Academy, Fort Pierce.
    • January 28, 1960
      Dies in the St. Lucie County Welfare Home

    When her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road, was published in 1942, Hurston finally received the well-earned acclaim that had long eluded her. Despite her compelling and extensive body of work, Zora Neale Hurston died in poverty. Ironically, she once wrote to W.E.B. DuBois, “Let no Negro celebrity, no matter what financial condition they might be in at death, lie in inconspicuous forgetfulness.” She did, however, until Alice Walker rescued her from obscurity. "Certainly, many of today’s African American women authors stand on the shoulders of Zora Neale Hurston." “Zora Neale Hurston: A Genius of the South” — The inscription that Alice Walker provided for the gravestone she erected says it all.




Hurston's Work

  • "Genius of the South"



    In this children's book, an enchantress who can slip in and out of her skin, A man more evil than the devil, A skull who talks back, A pair of creepy feet that can walk on their own?



    What’s the shortest man you ever seen?

    I seen a man so short, he had to get up on a box to look over a grain of sand.



    Included in this edition is the fascinating account of the Mule Bone copyright dispute between Hurston and Langston Hughes that ended their friendship and prevented this 1931 play from being performed until 1991.



    Based on Zora Neale Hurston’s personal experiences in Haiti and Jamaica, where she participated as an initiate rather than just an observer of voodoo practices during her visits in the 1930s