Zora Neale Hurston: A Voice For the African DiasporaJan 07, 2021 08:00AM ● By Kassidy Garland
Although Zora Neale Hurston claimed to be born in Florida in 1901, she was actually born on January 7, 1891 in Notasulga, Alabama. Hurston is known for her work as a world-renowned author and anthropologist. She is one of the most inspirational and successful female writers of the 21st century.
Zora Neale Hurston was born to parents who had once been enslaved. At the age of 10, she and her family relocated to Eatonville, Florida where they flourished. Eatonville was one of the first incorporated all black towns in the United States. There, her family was successful and her father became one of the town’s first mayors.
In Eatonsville, Hurston attended school until she was 13. When she was 16, she joined a theatrical company, which led her to Harlem, New York during the famed Harlem Renaissance. She attended Howard University from 1921-1924. In 1925, she won a scholarship to Barnard College where she would study anthropology under Franz Boas.
In 1928, she pursued her graduate studies in anthropology at Columbia University and also conducted a multitude of field studies in Southern, African American folklore. She was funded by Charlotte Mason who was a patron of Hurston’s friend and fellow writer, Langston Hughes at the time.
Throughout her life, Hurston dedicated herself to studying and promoting Black culture. She often studied on her travels to countries like Haiti and Jamaica; her goal was to study religion and cultures of the African Diaspora. She often used her research to aid in her fictional writing. She started publishing stories in the early 1920s and collaborated with other prominent writers of the time. Although she was ignored by the mainstream media, she was increasingly popular with the Black community because she broke the mold by writing stories focused on the experience of Black women.
Her first novel, Jonah’s Gourd Vine was published in 1934. Among her most famous works were Mules and Men, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Tell My Horse, and Moses, Man of the Mountain. Other notable works of hers include Dust Tracks on a Road and Seraph on the Swanee. Mule Bone, a collaboration with Langston Hughes, and several other collections were also published posthumously, including Spunk: The Selected Stories (1985), The Complete Stories (1995), and Every Tongue Got to Confess (2001), a collection of folktales from the South.
Hurston is mostly known for her writing, but she was also a purveyor of the arts. She established the school of dramatic arts at Bethune-Cookman College in 1934. She also worked as a drama teacher at the North Carolina College of Negroes. She was often underpaid for her achievements and eventually had to move into a welfare home. She died of heart disease on January 28, 1960, and was buried in an unmarked grave. But 12 years later, Alice Walker created a marker for her.
Zora Neale Hurston was a talented writer and anthropologist who worked to promote the culture, religion, and experience of the Afraican Diaspora. To this day, she is listed as one of the most prominent and notable writers of the 20th century.