Zora Neale Hurston

     Zora Neale Hurston was born in 1891 in Notasgula, Alabama. She was raised in the all-black town of Eatonville, where her father was elected mayor several times. Hurston's mother died in 1904 and because of differences with her stepmother, Hurston left home to work for a traveling theater company. She finished high school in 1917 and attended Howard University, off and on, beginning in 1920. Hurston was first published in Howard's literary magazine in 1921 and in 1925 the New York magazine, Opportunity, accepted another story. After winning second place in the Opportunity contest, she moved to New York.

      In New York, Hurston became part of the Harlem Renaissance. Here she mingled with other renowned black writers and artists and regaled the groups with stories of her childhood in the South. She began attending Barnard College and became interested in the area of folklore. During the next several years, Hurston traveled across the South, interviewing storytellers and other odd characters for inspiration in her writing.

      Hurston's first book, "Jonah's Gourd Vine," was published in 1934, and is a fictional tale which focuses on the lives of two people, similar to her parents, in an all-black town in Florida. Her second book, "Mules and Men," published in 1935, was the product of many years' work. In this book, she explores what she found during her trips to the South and its writing is geared toward the general public. "Their Eyes Were Watching God," published in 1937, is considered to be Hurston's most powerful novel.

      Hurston's ability to bring her characters and their lives to life was largely overlooked by critics during her lifetime. She never made a living from her writings and died in 1960 in poverty. In the later part of the 1960's, the critical attention paid to Hurston's works helped to place her with other influential American writers.

From Their Eyes Were Watching God:

Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men. Now, women forget all those things they don't want to remember, and remember everything they don't want to forget. The dream is the truth.

Time makes everything old so the kissing, young darkness became a monstropolous old thing...


Photo courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division,
Carl Van Vechten Collection