Erin Tryon

Written by Erin Tryon

Modified & Updated: 19 Jul 2024


Zora Neale Hurston was a literary giant whose work left an indelible mark on American culture, particularly during the Harlem Renaissance. Hurston wasn't just a writer; she was a folklorist and anthropologist who delved deep into African American and Caribbean cultures. Her novels, short stories, and plays are celebrated for their rich portrayal of black life in the early 20th century. Despite facing significant obstacles as an African American woman, Hurston's resilience and talent shone brightly. Her most famous work, "Their Eyes Were Watching God," remains a pivotal piece of literature that continues to inspire and resonate with readers worldwide. Here, we'll uncover 20 fascinating facts about Hurston, offering a glimpse into the life of this remarkable figure whose contributions to literature and culture are as relevant today as they were during her time.

Table of Contents

Early Life and Education

Zora Neale Hurston's journey began in the South, where her early experiences shaped her future work. Here are some fascinating details about her formative years.

  1. Born in Alabama: Hurston was born on January 7, 1891, in Notasulga, Alabama. Her family moved to Eatonville, Florida, when she was very young.

  2. Eatonville Influence: Eatonville, one of the first all-Black towns incorporated in the U.S., greatly influenced her writing. She often depicted it as a utopian community in her stories.

  3. Father's Role: Her father, John Hurston, was a preacher and mayor of Eatonville. His position in the community provided Zora with a unique perspective on leadership and social dynamics.

  4. Mother's Encouragement: Her mother, Lucy Ann Hurston, encouraged her to "jump at de sun," fostering Zora's ambition and creativity.

  5. Education Struggles: Hurston faced financial difficulties in pursuing education. Despite these challenges, she attended Howard University, where she co-founded the student newspaper, "The Hilltop."

Literary Career

Hurston's literary career is marked by groundbreaking works that captured the essence of African American culture. Let's explore some key moments and achievements.

  1. Harlem Renaissance: Hurston became a central figure in the Harlem Renaissance, a cultural movement celebrating Black art, music, and literature during the 1920s and 1930s.

  2. First Published Work: Her first short story, "John Redding Goes to Sea," was published in 1921 in the Howard literary magazine, "The Stylus."

  3. Anthropology Studies: Hurston studied anthropology under Franz Boas at Barnard College, which influenced her ethnographic approach to writing.

  4. "Their Eyes Were Watching God": Published in 1937, this novel is considered her masterpiece. It explores themes of love, independence, and self-discovery through the life of Janie Crawford.

  5. Folklore Collection: Hurston collected African American folklore, which she published in books like "Mules and Men" (1935) and "Tell My Horse" (1938).

Personal Life and Challenges

Hurston's personal life was as complex and colorful as her literary works. Here are some intriguing aspects of her life beyond writing.

  1. Multiple Marriages: Hurston married and divorced three times. Her relationships often influenced her writing and personal outlook.

  2. Financial Hardships: Despite her literary success, Hurston struggled financially throughout her life. She worked various jobs, including as a maid, to make ends meet.

  3. Legal Troubles: In 1948, Hurston faced false accusations of molestation, which damaged her reputation and career. The charges were later dropped, but the incident left a lasting impact.

  4. Political Views: Hurston held controversial political views for her time. She was a staunch Republican and opposed the New Deal, believing it fostered dependency.

  5. Return to Eatonville: Later in life, Hurston returned to Eatonville, where she continued to write and work on community projects.

Legacy and Recognition

Hurston's contributions to literature and anthropology have left an indelible mark. Her legacy continues to inspire new generations of writers and scholars.

  1. Rediscovery: Hurston's work was largely forgotten after her death in 1960. However, in the 1970s, author Alice Walker rediscovered and championed her work, leading to a resurgence of interest.

  2. Posthumous Publications: Several of Hurston's works were published posthumously, including "Every Tongue Got to Confess" (2001), a collection of folktales.

  3. Literary Awards: Hurston received numerous awards during her lifetime, including the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for "Dust Tracks on a Road" (1942), her autobiography.

  4. Cultural Impact: Hurston's portrayal of African American life and culture has influenced countless artists, writers, and filmmakers. Her work remains a cornerstone of African American literature.

  5. Zora Neale Hurston Festival: Eatonville hosts an annual festival in her honor, celebrating her life and contributions to literature and culture.

A Final Nod to Zora Neale Hurston's Legacy

Zora Neale Hurston left an indelible mark on literature and culture, shining a light on African American experiences with unmatched vibrancy and depth. Her work, especially during the Harlem Renaissance, broke barriers and paved the way for future generations of writers. Hurston's storytelling, rooted in folk traditions and a deep understanding of racial dynamics, continues to resonate today. Her legacy, a testament to the power of voice and perspective, encourages readers and writers alike to explore and celebrate diverse narratives. As we reflect on her contributions, let's remember the impact of her words and the importance of preserving such influential voices in history. Hurston's journey, from Eatonville to New York and beyond, serves as a beacon for the enduring relevance of storytelling in capturing the human experience.

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