Zora Neale Hurston: A Genius of the South

Zora Neale Hurston photo and quote. Text reads: “I belong to no race nor time. I am the eternal feminine with its string of beads.” - Zora Neale Hurston


What a fascinating woman...


So, of course I've read Zora Neale Hurston's 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, as it was one of the 1,001 Books to Read Before You Die.


I remember it being a bit challenging at first, since it's written in a mostly Southern African-American dialect, (Something she was criticized for.) but it's a powerful story about idealistic Janie, a young woman who lived in search of freedom from the men in her life, found love and learned of her own power, identity and the importance of her own voice.


What I didn't know until now was that Zora Neale Hurston was much, much, much more than a novelist.
A vibrant, charming and highly accomplished American novelist, essayist, anthropologist and folklorist, she was known for her wise quotes and as a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance cultural and intellectual movement in the 1920s and 1930s.


And boy, was she accomplished. These are just a handful of her achievements. 


* 1924 - Co-founded The Hilltop: Howard University's student newspaper (It just celebrated it's 100th anniversary!) (1)
* 1925 - Nabs 2nd place prizes from Opportunity Magazine's literary contest for her story, "Spunk" and her play, "Color Struck" (2)
* 1928 - Received her BA in Anthropology from Barnard College of Columbia University
In 1927, she began her fieldwork in the Deep South to collect African American folktales, which lead to her works, "Every Tongue Got to Confess," "Mules and Men," and "Barracoon," about her work and interviews with Africatown's Cudjoe Kazzola Lewis, the last known survivor of the illegal slave ship, Clotilda.


6 Books by Zora Neale Hurston
Her later travels and a Guggenheim Fellowship lead her to Jamaica and Haiti in 1937. The account of her fieldwork in Jamaican spiritual and cultural rituals and Haitian vodoun resulted in her work, "Tell My Horse."


Described by peers: "she was the party", she was still known to sneak away from one of her 'open house' parties to write in her bedroom. In her lifetime, she penned 4 novels, short stories, essays, plays and her 1942 autobiography, "Dust Tracks on a Road."


Despite her prolific career, she was never paid the monetary value she so richly deserved. Sadly, she passed away in 1960, with her phenomenal legacy falling into obscurity.
That is, until admirer Alice Walker, who was inspired by Hurston, shone an important light on her legacy in the 1970s, effectively sparking interest in her works from publishers and academics. (3)


Alice Walker played a key role in honoring Hurston’s work and legacy, starting in 1973 when she diligently searched for and found her previously unmarked grave, placing a gravestone engraved with the words, "Zora Neale Hurston: A Genius of the South".
She then went on to write the article, “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston,” in Ms. Magazine, in 1975.



"Walker admired how Hurston embraced Black culture through her literature. Something the two authors share in their writing style is that Their Eyes Were Watching God (and other works) and The Color Purple both use the Black southern vernacular in their characters’ dialogue." - Literary Ladies Guide, "How Alice Walker Rediscovered Zora Neale Hurston"


Now, Hurston's most famous work, "Their Eyes Were Watching God," (Also made into a 2005 film) is considered one of the most important novels of the twentieth century, and her contributions are studied and celebrated around the world.


The Zora Neale Hurston Award was established in 2008; it is awarded to an American Library Association member who has "demonstrated leadership in promoting African American literature" - Wikipedia


I don't know about you, but I intend to find a copy of her autobiography and dive headfirst into her world. I can't wait to find out more. 


(1) - Wikipedia - Zora Neale Hurston
(3) - The Scholar and Feminist Online - "Jumpin' at the Sun: Reassessing the
Life and Work of Zora Neale Hurston" by Monica L. Miller