BLACK HISTORY MONTH: Seven Days of Black Heroes – Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston Photo: United States Library of Congress

For the fifth installation of Seven Days of Black Heroes, we salute another literary icon–a cultural enthusiast and ethnographer with roots in the deep South who was not without controversy.

Zora Neale Hurston, a pioneering figure in American literature, was born on January 7, 1891, in Notasulga, Alabama. Raised in the vibrant cultural landscape of Eatonville, Florida, the first incorporated Black township in the United States, Hurston’s childhood was infused with the rich traditions of African American folklore, storytelling, and spirituality. These early experiences profoundly influenced her later literary works, shaping her distinctive voice and perspective.

Hurston’s literary journey began at Howard University, where she immersed herself in the flourishing Harlem Renaissance movement of the 1920s. It was during this time that she honed her writing skills and forged lifelong friendships with luminaries such as Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen. She later graduated from Barnard College at Columbia University with a degree in anthropology. Her research with renowned anthropologist Franz Boas, particularly her studies of African American folklore in the rural South, provided invaluable insights into the rich cultural heritage of her community and served as the foundation for much of her fiction.

She had an enduring interest in the traditions of the diaspora and traveled extensively to immerse herself in learning. Spurred by this passion, during her Ph.D. studies at Columbia University, she secured a Guggenheim Fellowship award to study obeah, an African diasporic religion, in Jamaica. Hurston’s offering “Tell My Horse”, encapsulates her knowledge of Caribbean folklore from her studies in Jamaica and Haiti, though it reportedly received a lukewarm reception from her contemporaries.

Hurston’s literary legacy is perhaps best exemplified by her masterpiece, “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” published in 1937. This seminal work, celebrated for its lyrical prose and vivid portrayal of Black womanhood, continues to resonate with readers around the world. In addition to her fiction, Hurston was a trailblazing playwright, essayist, and folklorist, whose contributions have left an indelible mark on American literature. Despite facing challenges and obstacles throughout her life, Hurston remained steadfast in her commitment to telling the stories of her people with authenticity and dignity.

Zora Neale Hurston’s achievements extend far beyond her literary endeavors. As one of the first Black women to conduct anthropological fieldwork in the United States, she paved the way for future generations of scholars and writers.

Her fearless exploration of race, gender, and identity continues to inspire readers and scholars alike, cementing her status as one of the most important voices in American literature.

Yet, what sets Zora Neale Hurston apart is an undaunting appreciation for maligned African spiritual practices and an unapologetic exploration of these phenomena in her work.

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1 Comment

  1. Roger Burnett
    February 25, 2024

    The pertinent phrases for Dominicans in this account of the life and work of Zora Neale Hurston are as follows:

    Not without controversy.
    A lukewarm reception from her contemporaries.
    Despite facing challenges and obstacles throughout her life.
    Remained steadfast in her commitment.
    An undaunting unapologetic exploration.

    In other words, she had courage in her convictions and was not afraid to speak out.

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