Zora Neale Hurston was born in Notasulga, Alabama in 1891. The youngest daughter of John and Lucy Potts Hurston,
a former schoolteacher.
In the very early years of Zora's life John Hurston, a carpenter, moved his family
to Eatonville, Florida, an all black community near Orlando. John did well
in Eatonville and later also became a minister and severed several terms as Mayor.
It appears that Zora had a love-hate relationship with her father.
Growing up in Eatonville and her early positive experiences with whites greatly influenced
her life and writing.
Photograph courtesy of:
Florida Memory Project-Photographic Collection
Hurston is noted as the first African-American (Black) American to collect and publish
African-American and Afro-Caribbean folklore. A novelist, essayist
journalist, playwright, writer of short stories, and anthropological folklore,
In her writings she could capture your imagination, draw you in and take you through a range of emotions,
laughing, crying, anger, grief, fear, regret and joy.
Her characters appeared real and human. She was a vibrant and compelling writer.
Her works were not at first popular but increased in popularity after the mid seventies.
She did not portray blacks as other writers of that era
as downtrodden and victims of racism. Her writing was the first time black folk in the
south were presented as normal people and in a positive light. She is now called the "literary grandmother" to black women writers.
A Time of Turmoil
At age nine¹,(some sources has age 13)
Zora's life would be forever changed by the death of her mother(to whom her relationship is not clear) and
start her on the many roads she traveled. Later that
year, her father sent her away from the all black community to Jacksonville, a segregated city,
to attend a private black school, The Florida Baptist Academy, where her older sister and one
of their brothers was attending. When her father stop paying the tuition she was sent home.
Zora felt unwanted and she was uncomfortable at her childhood home where her father and his new wife lived.
After a physical confrontation with her step-mother, that Zora won, she left home and lived here and there.
Some times not having any money and not knowing where
her next meal was coming from.
During approximately a five to eight years span,
which events are not clear other than it was a time of turmoil and aimless wondering, she
did domestic work for many white households, but never stayed long at any one place, she was not
suited for that type of work.
She held many other jobs in the following years. After that time she began to work for her brother Bob
and his wife, taking care of their children and household. But she was not happy.
She went to live with her brother John and later became a member of a traveling theater.
Zora loved to read and longed for knowledge and during the periods of turmoil she never gave
up on the hopes of furthering her education.
Image is from the collections of
Florida State Archives
Zora received her early education in Eatonvill at
the Robert Hungerford Normal and Industrial School and The Florida Baptist Academy, in Jacksonville,
Florida. Years later she attended high school in Baltimore and then Morgan Academy College Prep. School.
Her higher education was obtained at Howard, where she was a member of the Zata Phi Beta Sorority and The Stylus a literary Journal,
and received an associate degree, Barnard College in 1925, becoming the first African-American to attend,
and graduated in 1928 receiving a bachelor of arts degree, then Columbia
Universities, where she studied anthropology. She also received several fellowships for additional
study and research.
Zora held such jobs as waitress in a nightclub, manicurist in a black owned barber shop
that served only whites, a domestic, and
secretary to Fannie Hurst¹ to work her way through school.
She returned to the South in the 1920s.
Collecting materials for her four novels and book Mules and Men. Mules and Men has been called
"the greatest book of African-American folklore ever written."
In 1925, Hurston headed to New York City and became part of the Harlem Renaissance*.
She attended parties with other notable African-American writers. Hurston apparently
cut quite a figure in Harlem society. In this stylish period,
she was considered flamboyant and somewhat shocking. Always ready to retell the stories
she had heard in her visits to the south. She was also sometimes
considered controversial and did not always share the more popular views of the times.
Ms. Hurston considered such people as Carl Van Vechten, Fanny Hurst, Annie Nathan Meyer,
Langston Hughes, Wallace (Wally) Thurman and Grace and James Weldon Johnson, as close friends.
Over the next several years, Hurston would travel in the South, interviewing
storytellers in Florida and Voodoo doctors in New Orleans. She also spent a
lot of time in Jamaica and Haiti gathering information . This provided
material for her writing. The 1930's and early 1940's, it is said to have
marked the peak of Hurstonís literary career. Her 1937 novel Their
Eyes Were Watching God is generally considered to be her most powerful
novel. It is about a young black woman's coming of age in rural Florida.
*Every Tongue Got to Confess, was discovered in manuscript and published in 2001.
Photograph is from the collections of
Florida State Archives
Hurston returned to Florida in 1948 and faded into obscurity and poverty.
In 1959 she had a stroke, from which she never recovered, and in October of the same year was sent to
Lincoln Park Nursing Home, which was run by the St. Lucie County Welfare Agency, where she stayed
for some months.
She died on January 28, 1960. She was pronounced dead on arrival at Fort Pierce Memorial Hospital,
after being taken there following another stroke.
Having no money to cover burial
donations were given to cover expenses. She was buried at Genesee Memorial Gardens Cemetery (Garden of Heavenly Rest),
a segregated cemetery in Fort Pierce, Florida, in an unmarked grave, with many in attendance.
In 1973 the grave was visited by Alice Walker, a well know African- American writer. She found the
grave had not been tended and over grown with no headstone. She purchased a headstone and had it inscribed.
***ZORA NEALE HURSTON
GENIUS OF THE SOUTH
1901 - - - 1960
(Ms.Hurston's date of birth is now known to be 1891)
She was rediscovered in the 1970s and today she is studied in college
courses. She is generally looked upon as one of the finest American novelists
of the first half of the 20th century.
She has had over 25 book written about her.
She was awarded the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in Race Relations, received
Howard University Distinguished Alumni Award and received an award for "education and human relations"
at Bethune-Cookman College¹.
A festival is held in her honor every year in Eatonville, the town she loved
to claim as her own and that had greatly influenced her life and work.
This page is intended to give you a small view of the life of Zora Neale Hurston. There is
,of course, much more to the life of Zora Neale Hurston and her influence on many writers
of today and the past, and the influence she had on the literary world and people of her era.
It was rare in Zora's time for an African-American writer to make a living solely by their
**Photograph by: Carl Van Vechten
(also a friend of Ms. Hurston)
Hurston published a number of books, novels, and short works
A very short list of her works include:
Dust Tracks on a Road (Autobiography)(1942)
John Redding Goes To Sea - My Most Humiliating Jim Crow Experience
The Eatonville Anthology - How It Feels To Be Coloured Me - Hoodoo In America
Sweat(1926) - Opossum and the Pig(1926) - Jonah's Gourd Vine (1934)
Mules and Men (1935) - Tell My Horse (1938) - Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) -
Moses, Man of the Mountain (1939) - The Fire And The Cloud(1934)
Seraph on the Suwanee (1948) - What White Publishers Won't Print (1950)
(Play) Color Struck (1920's) -
*the comedy Mule Bone (1931), written in collaboration with her friend Langston Hughes.
Some Facts and Photos
[Art Deco- South Beach]
[Ante Bellum Plantations]
[James Weldon Johnson]
[Mary Mc Leod Bethune]
[Dr. John Gorrie]
[Eartha M. M. White]
**Photograph by: Carl Van Vechten
Source: Library of Congress
Top photograph is from the collections of
Florida State Archives
Source: The Florida Memory Project- Florida Folklife Collection.
Some information is from:
Some information is based on the following books and websites:
Wrapped in Rainbows:The Life of Zora Neale Hurston by Valerie Boyd
Dust Tracks on a Road by Zora Neale Hurston
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
***This Information is from a website called: Zora Neale Hurston
¹Dust Tracks on a Road by Zora Neale Hurston
²Dust Tracks on a Road by Zora Neale Hurston
Chapter entitled: Seeing The World As It Is
copyright notices for using information from the above sources and have given
complete titles, web site addresses, credit, etc. to the best of my abilities.
I take no credit for any of the information and have no personal knowledge of
the events and I am not representing such.
If the information I have provided concerning where and how the information
was obtained is not properly done or credited, it is in no way intentional.