Zora Neale Hurston was an African-American folklorist and writer associated with the Harlem Renaissance who celebrated rural African-American culture. She was born on January 7, 1891 in Notasulga, Alabama, USA. Zora is best known as an African-American novelist, short story writer, folklorist, and anthropologist for her contributions to African-American literature, portrayal of racial struggles in the American South, and works documenting her research on Haitian voodoo. Hurston’s 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God is the most well-known of her four novels and more than 50 published short stories, plays, and essays.
Although Hurston claimed to be born in Eatonville, Florida in 1901, she was actually ten years older and had moved there with her family as a small child. She attended school in the country’s first incorporated all-black town until she was 13 years old.
Hurston’s home life became increasingly difficult after her mother died in 1904, and at the age of 16, she joined a traveling theatrical company, eventually ending up in New York City during the Harlem Renaissance. She attended Howard University from 1921 to 1924 before winning a scholarship to Barnard College in 1925 to study anthropology under Franz Boas.
Neale Hurston graduated from Barnard in 1928 and went on to study anthropology at Columbia University for two years. She also conducted folklore field studies among African-Americans in the South. Her trips were paid for by folklorist Charlotte Mason, a friend of both Hurston and Langston Hughes. Hurston briefly served as an amanuensis to novelist Fannie Hurst.
Hurston and Hughes collaborated on Mule Bone: A Comedy of Negro Life in Three Acts in 1930, which was never completed (published posthumously in 1991). Jonah’s Gourd Vine, her first novel, was published in 1934 and was well received by critics for its portrayal of African-American life free of stock figures or sentimentality. Mules and Men, a study of folkways among Florida’s African American population, was published in 1935.
Tell My Horse (1938), a blend of travel writing and anthropology based on her investigations of voodoo in Haiti, and Moses, Man of the Mountain (1939), a novel, firmly established her as a major author. Hurston taught at North Carolina College for Negroes (now North Carolina Central University) in Durham for several years. She was also a member of the Library of Congress’s staff.
Her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road (1942), is highly regarded. Her last novel, Seraph on the Suwanee, was published in 1948. Despite her early promise, Hurston was little remembered by the general reading public by the time she died on January 28, 1960, in Fort Pierce, Florida, but there was a resurgence of interest in her work in the late twentieth century.
Aside from Mule Bone, several other collections were published posthumously, including Spunk: The Selected Stories (1985), The Complete Stories (1995), and Every Tongue Got to Confess (2001), a collection of Southern folktales. The Library of America released a two-volume set of her work in its series in 1995.