Zora Neale Hurston

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Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston (January 7, 1891January 28, 1960) was an African-American folklorist and author. Her best-known work is most likely Their Eyes Were Watching God.



Hurston was born in Notasulga, Alabama and grew up in Eatonville, Florida. She studied anthropology at Barnard College under Franz Boas at Columbia University.

Hurston's work slid into obscurity for decades, explainable for a number of reasons, cultural and political.

Dialogue in Hurston's work is roughly transcribed so as to mimic the actual speech of the period, and thus it embraces the dialect and culture of Black America of the early 20th century. For example ( Amy from the opening of Jonah's Gourd Vine):

Quote:"Dat's a big ole resurrection lie, Ned. Uh slew-foot, drag-leg lie at dat, and Ah dare yuh tuh hit me too. You know Ahm uh fightin' dawg and mah hide is worth money. Hit me if you dare! Ah'll wash yo' tub uh 'gator guts and dat quick."

Many felt that rendering the language this way was making a caricature of Black culture and thus was not deserving of respect. Recently, however, critics have praised her for her artful capture of the actual language and idiom of the day.

During the 1930s and 1940s when her work was published, the preminent Black American author was Richard Wright. Unlike Hurston, Wright wrote in explicitly political terms, using the struggle of Black Americans as both the setting and the motivation for his work. Because the political struggle of the time was aligned with Wright's writings, Hurston's work was ignored because it simply didn't fit in with this struggle. Other popular Black authors of the time, such as Ralph Ellison and Langston Hughes, were aligned with Wright's vision of the struggle of Black Americans, and did not sink into obscurity.

Some of Hurston's work was groundbreaking: She was among the first academics to study Voodoo, even travelling to Haiti in 1937, and presuming a scientific basis for tales of zombies, which was later proved to be correct.

Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston

At the time of the publication of her little regarded last novel, Seraph on the Suwanee, Hurston was wrongly accused of child molestation. In her defense she presented her passport, which indicated that she had been in Honduras at the time of the alleged incident, and the case was dismissed.

She covered the 1954 Florida murder trial of Ruby McCollum with journalist/author and civil rights advocate William Bradford Huie. Her detachment from the wider civil rights movement struggle was demonstrated by Hurston's opposition to the Supreme Court ruling in the Brown v Board of Education case (1954), arguing in a letter to the Orlando Sentinel that desegregation was predicated on black inferiority. The letter caused a furore and proved to be Hurston's last public intervention.


An article by Alice Walker about Hurston was published in Ms. Magazine in 1975, which is seen as reviving interest in her work. The rediscovery of Hurston's work has coincided with the popularity and critical acclaim of authors such as Toni Morrison and Walker herself, whose works are centered in a Black American experience which includes, but does not necessarily focus on racial struggle.


See also


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