Zora Neale Hurston (1891 – 1960) Author, Playwright Poet & Filmaker

“I do not weep at the world I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife,” profound words spoken by the lengendary author, poet, playwright and filmaker, Zora Neale Hurston. Her literary works often portrayed the racial struggles in the early-1900s rooted in the deep south. In addition, she was a pioneer researcher on the subject Hoodoo. She is best known for her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, which was published in 1937. She also wrote more than 50 short stories, plays, and essays.

Born on Jan. 7, 1891, in Notasulga, Alabama, to John Hurston and Lucy Ann Hurston. She was the fifth of eight children. She moved with her family to Eatonville, Florida, when she was still a toddler.

Eatonville was one of the first all-black incorporated cities in the U.S. which was established in 1887 after being settled by former slaves almost two decades post Civil War. Growing up in Eatonville allowed Zora to see the evidence of black excellence all around her. She could look to town hall meetings and see black men leading, including her father, formulating the laws that governed Eatonville. She could look to the Sunday Schools of the town’s two churches and see black women, including her mother, directing the Christian curriculum. She could look to the village store and see black men and women passing worlds through their mouths in the form of engaging stories.

In 1917, she moved to Baltimore. During this time she was 26 years old and still hadn’t finished high school. Needing to present herself as a teenager to qualify for free public school, she embellished her age, passing as a 16 year old. She attended Morgan Academy in Baltimore, completing the high school requirements.

In 1925, she arrived in New York City during the height of the Harlem Renaissance. She soon became one of the writers at its center. Her short story “Spunk” was selected for The New Negro, a landmark anthology of fiction, poetry, and essays focusing on African and African-American art and literature. In 1926, she joined a group of young black writers including Langston Hughes, and Wallace Thurman, calling themselves the Niggerati. Together they produced a literary magazine called Fire!!, that featured many of the young artists and writers of the Harlem Renaissance.

In 1935, Zora graduated from Barnard College and published several short stories and articles, as well as a novel (Jonah’s Gourd Vine) and a well-received collection of black Southern folklore (Mules and Men). But the late 1930s and early ’40s marked the real zenith of her career. She published her masterwork, Their Eyes Were Watching God, in 1937; Tell My Horse, her study of Caribbean Voodoo practices, in 1938; and another masterful novel, Moses, Man of the Mountain, in 1939. When her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road, was published in 1942, Zora finally received the well-earned acclaim that had long eluded her. That year, she was profiled in Who’s Who in AmericaCurrent Biography and Twentieth Century Authors. She went on to publish another novel, Seraph on the Suwanee, in 1948.

She died on January 28, 1960, in the St. Lucie County Welfare Home of “hypertensive heart disease’ and was buried in an unmarked grave in the Garden of Heavenly Rest, Fort Pierce. However, in 1973 Alice Walker discovered and marked Zora’s grave.

QUOTES:

  • There are years that ask questions and years that answer.
  • Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.
  • I do not weep at the world I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.
  • Research is formalized curiosity.
  • It is poking and prying with a purpose.
  • I have been in Sorrow’s kitchen and licked out all the pots.
  • Then I have stood on the peaky mountain wrapped in rainbows, with a harp and sword in my hands.
  • An envious heart makes a treacherous ear.
  • No matter how far a person can go the horizon is still way beyond you.
  • Gods always behave like the people who make them.
  • Those that don’t got it, can’t show it. Those that got it, can’t hide it.
  • I did not just fall

NOTABLE WORKS:

  • “Journey’s End” (Negro World, 1922), poetry
  • “Night” (Negro World, 1922), poetry
  • “Passion” (Negro World, 1922), poetry
  • Color Struck (Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life, 1925), play
  • Muttsy (Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life) 1926, short story
  • “Sweat” (1926), short story
  • “How It Feels to Be Colored Me” (1928), essay
  • “Hoodoo in America” (1931) in The Journal of American Folklore
  • “The Gilded Six-Bits” (1933), short story
  • “The Fiery Chariot” (1933)
  • Jonah’s Gourd Vine (1934), novel
  • “The Fire and the Cloud” (the Challenge, 1934)
  • Mules and Men (1935), non-fiction
  • In 1935 and 1936, Zora Neale Hurston shot documentary footage as part of her fieldwork in Florida and Haiti. Included are rare ethnographic evidence of the Hoodoo and Vodou religion in the U.S. and Haiti.
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), novel
  • Tell My Horse (1938), non-fiction
  • Moses, Man of the Mountain (1939, novel)
  • “Cock Robin, Beale Street” (Southern Literary Messenger, 1941)
  • Dust Tracks on a Road (1942), autobiography
  •  “Story in Harlem Slang” (American Mercury, 1942)
  • “The ‘Pet Negro’ Syndrome” (American Mercury, 1943)
  • Seraph on the Suwanee (1948), novel
  • “What White Publishers Won’t Print” (Negro Digest, 1950)

AWARDS & HONORS:

  • Distinguished Alumni Award, Howard University
  • The Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Musical
  • Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts
  • Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Nonfiction a

SOURCES:

RECREATE CREDITS:

Recreate Model: Quintana Smith

Recreate Photographer: Jasmine Y. Mallory

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