Zora Neale Hurston was an astounding Afro-American author who was recognized not for being the first Afro-American writer, but rather for her ability to bring forth her cultural language and imagery. If not for Zora's pioneering effort as a female black writer, the world of modern literature would have never seen the cultural insights of the African American culture in such a candid way. Zora's date of birth is said to be in January of 1891, however her actual date of birth is debated today due to the fact that records of African Americans during the 19 th century were not accurately kept (Lyons 2). Zora's home town, which was not disputed, was Eatonville, Florida, which was founded by African Americans and was the first all-black town incorporated into the United States (Cheryl@geo cities [online]). Her father John Hurston was a tall, heavy muscled man who often seemed 'invincible' to Zora (Lyons 2). John was a community leader and was influential member of society.
His positions in Eatonville included: Baptist preacher, town mayor, and skilled carpenter (Lyons 2). Though John was a revered member of Eatonville he had is faults as well. His eye for other women often left his family home alone for months out of a time (Lyons 1). Zora's mother, Lucy Potts Hurston was the 'hard-driving force in the family.' (Lyons 2) Lucy was a country schoolteacher, who taught all her children how to read and write, which lead to six out of her seven children earning a college degree (Lyons 2-3).
Unfortunately, Lucy Hurston died when Zora was nine years of age (Otfinoski 46). Zora was the seventh child out of a family of eight (Otfinoski 45). During her childhood she felt unloved by her father and thus was seen as the odd on out (Lyons 2). Zora's education was comprised of six years of grammar school, high school, and several prestigious colleges. Zora attended grammar school in Eatonville, Florida at Hungerford School around 1907 (Lyons 3). The summer of 1917 Zora began the next step of her education by attending Morgan Academy in Baltimore, Maryland.
By 1918 when she had finished her high school requirements, Zora had attended multiple schools, in order to gain the best education as an African American female. 1918-1919 Zora attended Howard Prep School in Washington D. C. In 1920 she earned her associates degree and in 1924 earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in anthropology at Howard University (Lyons 24-6). During the latter part of her education she attended Barnard College where she studied anthropology. 'Always daring to be different,' Zora chose herself a shocking major (Otfinoski 47).
At a time when any woman going to college was rare, a black woman studying anthropology as well as attending college was unheard of (Otfinoski 47). Education for Zora never stopped, as she went to Columbia University in 1935 in hopes of achieving her Ph. D. on a Fellowship for the Rosen wald Foundation. Zora's efforts in obtaining her Ph. D.
were lacking. Her education received a boost in 1939 when she received an Honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Morgan State College (Hurston 204). This was the pinnacle and end of her academic achievements. Zora Hurston's career was one of storytelling and teaching. Zora used her talents to create 'realistic black character's and speech in her books,' as well as teaching students the art of African American drama (Lyons IX). Zora's career began at an early age of eight years old.
Her wild imagination sprung to life with inspiration from her mother, Lucy. Her father's disapproval of her writing sparked an even greater sense of rebellion in her youth, which led to her pioneering efforts as an African American woman (Lyons 1-4). Her first job was not as a writer, as many would suspect. She worked as both a waitresses in a nightclub and as a manicurist in a black-owned barbershop during the summer of 1918 (Otfinoski 47). After Zora's undergraduate studies at Barnard College she began a career in Anthropology at Columbia University, under the famed Francois Boas, which led her to Florida. During her trips to Florida in 1927, she collected folklore from various African American towns and societies (Otfinoski 47-8).
Zora step in collecting folklore took some tremendous courage for 'Southern black folklore had never been collected by one of the folk' (Lyons 60). This folklore later became the source of her novels and short stories. Zora's true career began in the famed Harlem Renaissance of the 1930's. This was a period in which African American culture was formally introduced into modern literature (Lyons 35-7). In hopes of continuing her expeditions as a folklorist Zora needed to seek financial assistance. Thus, she encountered Mrs.
Rufus Osgood Mason, a wealthy 'white patronage' (Lyons 51). Mrs. Osgood often gave struggling artists over fifty thousand dollars to continue their expeditions. Through a five-year time period Mrs. Osgood did provide Zora fifteen thousand dollars to go on her travels. During this time, from 1926-1931, she met Langston Hughes, another aspiring African American writer, with whom she published one of the first African American magazines, named Fire.
Unfortunately, for both Zora and Langston Mrs. Osgood's 'gifts' (Lyons 51) resulted in high prices which in affect left great conflicts between Langston and Zora, and so broke up what could have been an awesome African American duo (Lyons 51-7). Despite such a set back Zora's career continued with many popular novels and short stories. In 'January of 1934, Zora went to Bethune-Cookman College to establish a school of dramatic arts based on pure Negro expression' (Zora 203).
While focusing on her theatrical aspects of her career Zora joined the W. P. A. Federal Theatre Project as a drama coach and was later hired as a drama instructor by North Carolina College for Negroes at Durham in the summer of 1939. In March of 1936 Zora was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship to study West Indian Obeah practices. In April of 1938 she joined the Federal Writers Project in Florida to work on The Florida Negro (Hurston 204).
To most Zora Neale is most importantly remembered for her literary career. Zora Neale Hurston 'a genius of the south' was the author of seven books and over one hundred short stories, plays, essays, and articles (Lyons IX). Zora's first attempt at literature was a poem, when she was eight years old (Lyons 2). In 1921 her literary career truly began in a formal fashion as she published her first story: John Readings Goes to Sea in the Stylus, a school campus literary magazine (Lyons 32). In the Opportunity, a campus magazine, she placed second with Spunk, a short story, and Color Struck, a play (Lyons 35-7). After her college years she worked diligently with several other African American writers, but did most of her more renowned and known work by herself.
The entire list of her published short stories include: Mutts y (Opportunity), Possum or Pig (Forum), The Eatonville Anthropology (Messenger), How It Feels to be Colored (World Tomorrow), The Gilded Six Bits (Story), The Fire and the Cloud (Challenge), Tell My Horse, Now Take Noses, Moses Man of the Mountains, Dust Tracks on a Road (Hurston 203-7). Her career was sustained by these short stories, but was truly launched into fame by her novels including: Jonah's Gourd Vine, Mules and Men, and Their Eyes Were Watching God (Lyons 14). Though her success was unequaled in the realm of African American writers, she herself had one rejection in her writing. She wrote Mrs. Doctor, in 1945, but it was rejected from Lippincott Publishing. The end of her literary career was marked by her travels to British Honduras, where she researched black communities in Central America and wrote Seraph on the Suwannee (Hurston 205).
Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God offers not only a 'portrait of a woman who learns to know and trust herself,' but also a sense of community and self-reliance in her individual (Magill 571). The main character, Janie, as the reader comes to know from a personal perspective, mimics the life of Zora Neale Hurston. Janie Crawford of Eatonville, Florida, portrays the image of Zora Neale Hurston in her middle age. This is clearly depicted by Janie's self-satisfaction with her life at the age of forty.
Janie, like Zora, followed her own path, rejecting security and stability in favor of desires and adventures. One critic, Alice Walker, a renowned black female writer herself stated, 'Their Eyes Were Watching God speaks to me as no novel, past or present has ever done... There is enough self-love in that one book -- -love of community, culture, traditions -- to restore a world. ' (Magill 570-2) Zora's Neale Hurston's personal life consisted of some disappointments and some successes.
After collecting folklore in Florida in 1927 she met Herbert Sheen. It was during this trip that she and Herbert Sheen secretly married. Herbert was a man she had met during her first year of college. There were plenty of problems in their relationship since their dreams of pursuing their own careers would enable them to be together.
Sheen wanted to go to medical school in Chicago while Zora not quite finished with her studies, and a trained anthropologist was unwilling to follow her husband. Both parties were not willing to give of their prestigious careers. Hence, the marriage only lasted eight months, ending in a divorce in 1931 (Lyons 62). However, Zora and Sheen remained life long friends and continued to write letters and back forth where Zora once wrote him, 'Your own mother has never loved you to the depth I have, Herbert.' (Lyons 62) In March of 1937, while writing Their Eyes Were Watching God, she met Albert Price III and later married him in June of 1939 in Florida (Hurston 204). Their time together, just like her previous marriage, was short lived and ended in February 1940.
The low point of Zora's life may have been when she was accused of molesting a young ten-year old child. Zora was proven innocent, though the incident followed her to her deathbed (Hurston 206). On January 28, 1960 she died St. Lucy County Welfare Home of 'hypertensive heart disease' (Hurston 207). She was buried in unmarked grave in the Garden of Heavenly Rest, Fort Pierce, which was later discovered by Alice Walker (Hurston 207). In conclusion, Zora was the largest contributor to the emergence of female African American writers in the United States.
It is evident in all the accomplishments and hardship Zora has overcome her ethnic background wasn't her down fault. Zora took pride in what she was and once said, 'I have no separate feelings about being an American citizen and colored. I am merely a fragment of the great soul that surges within my country' (Gates 37). Therefore, cultural awareness of the African American society was severely increased worldwide due to her impact upon literature. Even today, as I write this piece, I remember that my boyfriend has read one of her books in a Freshman American Experience class. Her novels and short stories have given us such a light to the African American culture.
It has revealed how influential and important Zora's literature was to the overall culture of the United States. In my opinion, Zora had one of the most successful careers, yet one of the most troubled personal lives of any minority writer. As one writer put it, 'At a time when most black writers wrote about racism, she largely ignored it in her writing. Being black was something she was proud of, But to be labeled by her color alone. As one friend put it, 'Zora would Have been Zora even if she was an Eskimo'.' (Otfinoski 52).