I’m sure many of you have heard of Toni Morrison and Alice Walker, but do you know who was a major influence in these writers lives? It was a woman by the name of Zora Neal Hurston. She was a very talented novelist, folklorist, and anthropologist who has recently been reintroduced to the literary world.
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Let’s begin by looking at some of her background information.
a. Zora Neal Hurston was born on January 7, 1891 in Notasulga, Alabama.
b. When she was 3 her family moved to Eatonville, Florida.
1. According to Women in History, this town is unique in that it
was the first incorporated black community in America.
2. Eatonville would become the muse of her stories about a place
African Americans could live independent of white societies rule.
Upon adulthood, Hurston began her undergraduate studies at Howard University but left after not being able to support herself.
a. She was later offered a scholarship to Bernard College where she received a B.A. in anthropology.
The 1930’s and late 40’s marked the peak of Hurstons career.
III. Zora’s career
a. Zora Neal Hurston’s technique of combining literature with anthropology, led her to
become a driving force in the Harlem Renaissance.
b. She first gained attention with her short stories “John Redding Goes to Sea” and “Spunk”.
c. After several years of anthropological research Hurston’s first novel, “Jonah’s
Gourd”, as well as her second, “Mules and Men”, were published with critical success.
d. The novel that gained her the most success was “Their Eyes Were Watching God”.
After only a couple more successful novels Hurston’s literary influence faded.
IV. Fall of Hurston’s Career
a. During the Post WWII era of the civil rights movement the issue of racism
of whites against blacks became a theme among African American writers.
b. The fact that Zora didn’t address racism in her stories tarnished her reputation.
c. She further ruined her reputation by being against the civil rights movement.
1. Hurston believed that Eatonville was proof that African Americans
could live independent of White Americans rule.
e. She wrote more novels, but was unsuccessful at her attempts to get them published.
Zora lived the rest of her life in poverty.
a. In 1959, she suffered a severe stroke and was committed to a nursing home.
b. On January 28, 1960 Hurston died of heart disease and was buried in an unmarked
grave in Fort Pierce, Fl.
c. In 1973, Alice Walker found and marked the grave “Genius of the South”.
d. Two years later Walker published an article ” In Search of Zora Neal Hurston”
that sparked new interest in Hurston.
Toni Morrison and Alice Walker weren’t the only ones inspired by Hurston’s work. After being forced to read ” Their Eyes Were Watching God” in a college literature class I was too inspired. Who would have thought a story that I dreaded to read would be an inspiration to me. I hope that maybe one day you all will find inspiration in reading her works also.
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