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ZORA NEAL HURSTON

American Writer and Folklorist (1901-1960)

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Born in Notasulga, Alabama, Hurston grew up in Florida.  Hurston later attended Howard University while working as a manicurist.  In 1925, she went to New York City, drawn by the circle of creative Black artists (now known as the Harlem Renaissance), and she began writing fiction.  Annie Nathan Meyer, founder of Barnard College, found a scholarship for Hurston.  Hurston began her study of anthropology at Barnard under Franz Boaz, studying also with Ruth Benedict and Gladys Reichard.  With the help of Boaz and Elsie Clews Parsons, Hurston was able to win a six-month grant she used to collect African American folklore.  While studying at Barnard, Hurston also worked as a secretary for Fannie Hurst, a novelist.  Once, Fannie Hurst and Zora Neale Hurston were having lunch together at a New York restaurant, Hurst identified Hurston as an African princess. 

Hurston said of the experience, "Who would think that a good meal could be so bitter?"  After college, when Hurston began working as an ethnologist, she combined fiction and her knowledge of culture.  Her early patron, Mrs. Rufus Osgood mason, supported her work on the condition that Hurston not publish anything.  It was only after Hurston cut herself off from Mrs. Mason's financial patronage that she began publishing her poetry and fiction.  Hurston's best-known work was published in 1937.  Their Eyes Were Watching God, a novel which was controversial because it didn't fit easily into stereotypes of Black stories.  She was criticized within the Black community for taking funds from Whites to support her writing: she wrote about themes "too Black" to appeal to many Whites.  Her popularity wanted.  Her last book was published in 1948.  She worked for a time on the faculty of North Carolina College for Negroes in Durham, she wrote for Warner Brothers motion pictures, and for some time worked on staff at the Library of Congress.  

 

Revised: July 18, 2013.