“Love is like the sea. It’s a moving thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from the shore it meets, and it’s different with every shore.” This is a snippet from Zora Neale Hurston’s most famous book, Their Eyes Were Watching God. As an author and anthropologist, she created many works that still have a great influence, especially in the black community. Here is a short biography of Zora Neale Hurston to know her deeper.
The history of Zora Neale Hurston started on Jan 7th, 1891. She was born in Notasulga, Alabama. Her parents, John and Lucy, were formerly slaves. They had eight children, and Zora was the fifth.
In 1892, the Hurston’s moved to Eatonville, Florida. At that time, Eatonville was already an incorporated municipality. Upon arriving at the village, young Hurston fell in love almost instantly. Being a colored person herself, her move to Eatonville strengthened her first connection to the African-American community.
Zora grew up having quite a privilege, as the daughter of the town’s mayor and the minister of the church. However, her life took a turn when her mother died. Her father remarried Mattie Moge. Having only six years gap, a rumor came up that Hurston didn’t like her stepmother.
After her mother’s death, Hurston was sent into a boarding school in Jacksonville. Unfortunately, she was expelled due to her family’s inability to pay the tuition. That made Hurston take several jobs to live.
Despite her age, Hurston decided to continue her education at Morgan College. Eager to get an education, she went so far as to falsify her age just to acquire a free scholarship. She continued using her fake age even until her death.
In 1919, a year after she graduated from high school, she came to Howard University. Once again Hurston’s connection with the black community increases, as Howard University has always been known as a black college.
To pay for her school fees, he took various jobs, such as maid and actress for a play. She graduated from Howard University with an associate degree in 1920.
First Literary Work
Her financial aspect might have been a problem, but not with her literary aspect. In 1921, Stylus, Howard University’s magazine, published her short story “John Redding Goes to The Sea”. The feedback was so positive that it acquired her a position in Alain Locke’s literary club.
In 1924, Hurston was accepted into Barnard College as an aspiring anthropologist with a scholarship. In the same year, her second short story “Drenched in Light” was also published in Opportunity, an academic journal by National Urban League highlighting the black community.
While juggling her life as a university student, she submitted another short story titled “Spunk” to Opportunity’s literary competition. She also submitted a play called “Color Struck”, and won second place for both works.
Barnard was a big influence on Hurston’s career. There she met Franz Boas, an anthropologist from Columbia University. In 1925, together, they ran research on the black community in Harlem. Her involvement in the black literary movement soon inspired a rise in black literature, known as the Harlem Renaissance.
In 1926, she published a short story titled “Sweat” and several others. She also met Langston Hughes, an American novelist, poet, and social activist. They quickly became friends and published quite an influential journal called “Fire!!”.
Most Notable Works
One of the most notable works Hurston is “How it Feels to Be Colored Me”, an essay she wrote in 1928 out of her love for Eatonville, her childhood home. She also wrote a play called “Mule Bone” with Hughes. However, later in 1930, Hurston and Hughes’ friendship went under, as they disagreed on the play’s authorship.
Hurston continued to explore her literary skills. In 1932, she wrote a musical titled “The Great Day” about black labor. The play gained so much success as it premiered on Broadway.
While studying as a doctoral student at Columbia University, Hurston published her first novel, “Jonah’s Gourd Vine” and a collection of black folktales, “Mules and Men”. In 1936, she was granted a fellowship to Jamaica. There she ran research on sorcery in the West.
Her research brought her to Haiti, where her second and most famous novel, “Their Eyes Were Watching God” was made. Not stopping there, she continued to write several short stories and novels. She also took part as a drama instructor at North Carolina College while being a reporter for The Pittsburgh Courier.
In 1927, Hurston married her classmate at Howard, Marries Herbert Sheen. Her marriage did not go well and she underwent a divorce in 1931.
While being a drama instructor, she also met Albert Price III, and they got married in 1939. Unfortunately, her marriage with Price also did not go well and went on divorce in 1943. Hurston did not have children from both marriages.
Despite being a renowned figure, Hurston was struggling both financially and physically in her old age. At 68, she was admitted to St. Lucie County Welfare Home due to a stroke. Having no relatives, she couldn’t help but depend on her friends, who paid all of her necessities at the retirement home.
A year later, at 69, Hurston died of hypertensive heart disease. Her final resting place is an unknown grave in Fort Pierce.
About a decade after her death, Alice Walker, a renowned African-American author came across Hurston’s work and was deeply influenced by her. She even searched for Hurston’s unknown grave and set an inscription there.
To commemorate Hurston, people in Eatonville hold an annual event called The Zora Neale Hurston Festival. In 2008, a documentary of her title “Jump at The Sun” was broadcast for the first time. PBS channel also broadcasted it in 2010. In the same year, Hurston also got her place at New York’s Writer Hall of Fame.
Zora Neale Hurston continues to inspire the modern black community until now. We hope this biography of Zora Neale Hurston helps you recognize some, if not all, of her works and appreciate them.