BIOGRAPHY (from Gradesaver.com)
On January 7, 1891, Zora Neale Hurston was born in the tiny town of Notasulga, Alabama. She was the fifth of eight children in the Hurston household. Her father John was a carpenter, a sharecropper, and a Baptist preacher; her mother Lucy, a former schoolteacher. Within a year of Zora's birth, the family moved to Eatonville, Florida. Eatonville was the first incorporated black municipality in the United States.
In 1904, thirteen-year-old Zora was devastated by the death of her mother. Later that same year, her father removed her from school and sent her to care for her brother's children. A rambunctious and restless teenager, Zora was eager to leave the responsibility of her brother's household. She became a member of a traveling theater at the age of sixteen, and subsequently began domestic work in a white household. The woman for whom Zora worked bought her her first book and arranged for her to attend high school at Morgan Academy (now known as Morgan State University) in Baltimore. She graduated in June 1918.
The following summer, Zora worked as a waitress and manicurist before enrolling in Howard Prep School. She later attended Howard University. Although she spent nearly four years at Howard, she graduated with only a two-year Associates degree. Perhaps this is explained by the fact that Zora spent most of her time at Howard writing. Beginning with a college publication, and then branching out into writing contests in newspapers and magazines, the early 1920s marked the beginning of Zora Neale Hurston's career as an author.
In 1925, as the Harlem Renaissance was building steam, Hurston headed to New York City. She enrolled in Barnard College to study under Franz Boas, an important founder of the discipline of anthropology. While there, Hurston married an her boyfriend from Howard, Herbert Sheen, but the marriage was short-lived. After graduation, Zora returned to her hometown of Eatonville to collect stories as material for her blossoming writing career. In the late 1920s, Hurston published several works and consequently gained financial sponsorship from wealthy New York patrons.
The 1930s and early 1940s marked the peak of Hurston's literary career. She completed graduate work at Columbia, published four novels and an autobiography, and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. She traveled to the Caribbean where she became intrigued by the practice of voodoo and she began to incorporate supernatural elements into her novels and stories. Although her work received increasing acclaim from the white literati of New York, Zora often felt under attack by members of the Black Arts Movement. She termed these detractors as members of the "niggerati" for being close-minded in their criticism of her racial politics.
By the mid-1940s Hurston's writing career was faltering, and she was arrested and charged with molesting a ten-year-old boy. Although she was acquitted, the scars to her image remained permanent. Hurston sunk into depression as publishers rejected one after another of her works.
Around 1950, Hurston returned to Florida where she worked cleaning houses. After a slew of unsuccessful career changes (including newspaper journalist, librarian, and substitute teacher), Hurston became a penniless recluse. She suffered a fatal stroke in 1959 and was buried at unmarked grave in Fort Pierce, Florida.
This is the Official Website for author Zora Neale Hurston.
"Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place."
This is just one of the many quotes from Zora Neale Hurston. Read more by clicking on the picture or the title.
This is an article on Zora Neale Hurston on the Women's History website.
Zora Neale Hurston's biography, information and digital collection of publications and more, from the University of Central Florida.
Books by Zora Neale Hurston on Amazon.com.
Hurston Bio by Amazon.com
Zora Neale Hurston was born on Jan. 7, 1891, in Notasulga, Alabama. Hurston moved with her family to Eatonville, Florida, when she was still a toddler. Her writings reveal no recollection of her Alabama beginnings. For Hurston, Eatonville was always home.
Growing up in Eatonville, in an eight-room house on five acres of land, Zora had a relatively happy childhood, despite frequent clashes with her preacher-father. Her mother, on the other hand, urged young Zora and her seven siblings to "jump at de sun."
Hurston's idyllic childhood came to an abrupt end, though, when her mother died in 1904. Zora was only 13 years old.
After Lucy Hurston's death, Zora's father remarried quickly and seemed to have little time or money for his children. Zora worked a series of menial jobs over the ensuing years, struggled to finish her schooling, and eventually joined a Gilbert & Sullivan traveling troupe as a maid to the lead singer. In 1917, she turned up in Baltimore; by then, she was 26 years old and still hadn't finished high school. Needing to present herself as a teenager to qualify for free public schooling, she lopped 10 years off her life--giving her age as 16 and the year of her birth as 1901. Once gone, those years were never restored: From that moment forward, Hurston would always present herself as at least 10 years younger than she actually was.
Zora also had a fiery intellect, and an infectious sense of humor. Zora used these talents--and dozens more--to elbow her way into the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, befriending such luminaries as poet Langston Hughes and popular singer/actress Ethel Waters.
By 1935, Hurston--who'd graduated from Barnard College in 1928--had published several short stories and articles, as well as a novel (Jonah's Gourd Vine) and a well-received collection of black Southern folklore (Mules and Men). But the late 1930s and early '40s marked the real zenith of her career. She published her masterwork, Their Eyes Were Watching God, in 1937; Tell My Horse, her study of Caribbean Voodoo practices, in 1938; and another masterful novel, Moses, Man of the Mountain, in 1939. When her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road, was published in 1942, Hurston finally received the well-earned acclaim that had long eluded her. That year, she was profiled in Who's Who in America, Current Biography and Twentieth Century Authors. She went on to publish another novel, Seraph on the Suwanee, in 1948.
Still, Hurston never received the financial rewards she deserved. So when she died on Jan. 28, 1960--at age 69, after suffering a stroke--her neighbors in Fort Pierce, Florida, had to take up a collection for her funeral. The collection didn't yield enough to pay for a headstone, however, so Hurston was buried in a grave that remained unmarked until 1973.
That summer, a young writer named Alice Walker traveled to Fort Pierce to place a marker on the grave of the author who had so inspired her own work.
Walker entered the snake-infested cemetery where Hurston's remains had been laid to rest. Wading through waist-high weeds, she soon stumbled upon a sunken rectangular patch of ground that she determined to be Hurston's grave. Walker chose a plain gray headstone. Borrowing from a Jean Toomer poem, she dressed the marker up with a fitting epitaph: "Zora Neale Hurston: A Genius of the South."