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Zora Neale Hurston
Hurston-Zora-Neale-LOC.jpg
Born (1891-01-07)January 7, 1891
Notasulga, Alabama, U.S.
Died January 28, 1960(1960-01-28) (aged 69)
Fort Pierce, Florida, U.S.
Occupation Folklorist, anthropologist, ethnographer, novelist, short story writer, filmmaker
Alma mater
Period c. 1925–1950
Literary movement The Harlem Renaissance
Notable works Their Eyes Were Watching God
Spouse
Herbert Sheen
(m. 1927; div. 1931)

Albert Price
(m. 1939; div. 1943)

James Howell Pitts
(m. 1944; div. 1944)

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Zora Neale Hurston (January 7, 1891 – January 28, 1960) was an American author, anthropologist, and filmmaker. She portrayed racial struggles in the early-1900s American South and published research on hoodoo. The most popular of her four novels is Their Eyes Were Watching God, published in 1937. She also wrote more than 50 short stories, plays, and essays.

Biography

Early life and education and interest

Hurston was the fifth of eight children of John Hurston and Lucy Ann Hurston (née Potts). All of her four grandparents had been born into slavery. Her father was a Baptist preacher and sharecropper, who later became a carpenter, and her mother was a school teacher. She was born in Notasulga, Alabama, on January 7, 1891, where her father grew up and her paternal grandfather was the preacher of a Baptist church.

When she was three, her family moved to Eatonville, Florida. In 1887, it was one of the first all-black towns incorporated in the United States. Hurston said that Eatonville was "home" to her, as she was so young when she moved there. Sometimes she claimed it as her birthplace. A few years later, her father was elected as mayor of the town in 1897. In 1902 he was called to serve as minister of its largest church, Macedonia Missionary Baptist.

As an adult, Hurston often used Eatonville as a setting in her stories—it was a place where African Americans could live as they desired, independent of white society. In 1901, some northern schoolteachers had visited Eatonville and given Hurston several books that opened her mind to literature. She later described this personal literary awakening as a kind of "birth". Hurston lived for the rest of her childhood in Eatonville and described the experience of growing up there in her 1928 essay, "How It Feels To Be Colored Me".

Hurston's mother died in 1904, and her father subsequently married Mattie Moge in 1905. Hurston's father and stepmother sent her to a Baptist boarding school in Jacksonville, Florida. They eventually stopped paying her tuition and she was dismissed.

Work and study

In 1916, Hurston was employed as a maid by the lead singer of the Gilbert & Sullivan theatrical company.

In 1917, she resumed her formal education, attending Morgan College, the high school division of Morgan State University, a historically black college in Baltimore, Maryland. At this time, apparently to qualify for a free high-school education, the 26-year-old Hurston began claiming 1901 as her year of birth. She graduated from the high school of Morgan State University in 1918.

College and slightly after

When she was in College, she was introduced to viewing life through an anthropological lens away from Eatonville. One of her main goals was to prove similarities between ethnicities. In 1918, Hurston began her studies at Howard University, a historically black college in Washington, DC. She was one of the earliest initiates of Zeta Phi Beta sorority, founded by and for black women, and co-founded The Hilltop, the university's student newspaper. She took courses in Spanish, English, Greek, and public speaking and earned an associate degree in 1920. In 1921, she wrote a short story, "John Redding Goes to Sea", which qualified her to become a member of Alain Locke's literary club, The Stylus.

Hurston left Howard in 1924, and in 1925 was offered a scholarship by Barnard trustee Annie Nathan Meyer to Barnard College of Columbia University, a women's college, where she was the sole black student. While she was at Barnard, she conducted ethnographic research with noted anthropologist Franz Boas of Columbia University, and later studied with him as a graduate student. She also worked with Ruth Benedict and fellow anthropology student Margaret Mead. Hurston received her B.A. in anthropology in 1928, when she was 37.

Hurston had met Charlotte Osgood Mason, a philanthropist and literary patron, who became interested in her work and career. She had supported other African-American authors, such as Langston Hughes and Alain Locke, who had recommended Hurston to her. But she also tried to direct their work. Mason supported Hurston's travel to the South for research from 1927 to 1932, with a stipend of $200 per month. In return, she wanted Hurston to give her all the material she collected about Negro music, folklore, literature, hoodoo, and other forms of culture. At the same time, Hurston had to try to satisfy Boas as her academic adviser, who was a cultural relativist and wanted to overturn ideas ranking cultures in a hierarchy of values.

After graduating from Barnard, Hurston studied for two years as a graduate student in anthropology at Columbia University, working further with Boas during this period. Living in Harlem in the 1920s, Hurston had befriended poets Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen, among several other writers. Her apartment, according to some accounts, was a popular spot for social gatherings. Around this time, Hurston also had a few early literary successes, including placing in short-story and playwriting contests in Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life, published by the National Urban League.

Career

In her early career, Hurston conducted anthropological and ethnographic research while a student at Barnard College and Columbia University. She had an interest in African-American and Caribbean folklore, and how these contributed to the community's identity.

She also wrote fiction about contemporary issues in the black community and became a central figure of the Harlem Renaissance. Her short satires, drawing from the African-American experience and racial division, were published in anthologies such as The New Negro and Fire!! After moving back to Florida, Hurston wrote and published her literary anthology on African-American folklore in North Florida, Mules and Men (1935), and her first three novels: Jonah's Gourd Vine (1934); Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937); and Moses, Man of the Mountain (1939). Also published during this time was Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica (1938), documenting her research on rituals in Jamaica and Haiti.

Hurston's works concerned both the African-American experience and her struggles as an African-American woman. Her novels went relatively unrecognized by the literary world for decades. Interest was revived in 1975 after author Alice Walker published an article, "In Search of Zora Neale Hurston", in the March issue of Ms. magazine that year. Hurston's manuscript Every Tongue Got to Confess, a collection of folktales gathered in the 1920s, was published posthumously in 2001 after being discovered in the Smithsonian archives. Her nonfiction book Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo", about the life of Cudjoe Lewis (Kossola), was published posthumously in 2018.

Marriages

In 1927, Hurston married Herbert Sheen, a jazz musician and a former teacher at Howard; he later became a physician. Their marriage ended in 1931. In 1935, Hurston was involved with Percy Punter, a graduate student at Columbia University. He inspired the character of Tea Cake in Their Eyes Were Watching God.

In 1939, while Hurston was working for the WPA in Florida, she married Albert Price. The marriage ended after few months, but they did not divorce until 1943. The following year, Hurston married James Howell Pitts of Cleveland. That marriage, too, lasted less than a year.

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