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Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston

A pre-eminent writer of the twentieth century African American literature, Zora Neale Hurston was born on January 7, 1891 in Notasulga, Alabama. She was the fifth of eight children of John Hurston, a carpenter and Lucy Hurston, a school teacher. The family moved to Eatonville, Florida before Zora turned one. After the death of her mother in 1904, 13 year old Zora was stopped from going to school and sent as a caretaker to her brother’s house to look after his children. Desperately wanting to escape from the responsibility, Zora became a member of a travelling theatre while also providing domestic services at a white household. To her good fortune, the lady of the white house introduced Zora to books and also enrolled her at the Morgan Academy High School. Upon graduation from high school in June 1918, Zora found work as a waitress and manicurist.

Not wasting much time after high school, Zora began attending Howard Prep School moving on to Howard University for further education. Although she spent four years at Howard, Hurston was able to complete only a two-year Associates degree, the reason being spending too much time on writing. It was during this time in the early 1920s that Zora Neale Hurston began her career as an author. She wrote for college publications and participated in newspaper and magazine writing contests. In 1925, Hurston moved to New York where she enrolled in Barnard College to study under Franz Boas who was a significant figure involved in the founding of the subject of anthropology. Also during this time, Hurston married her boyfriend, Herbert Sheen. The marriage did not do too well and the couple separated shortly after tying the knot. In search of new stories to boost her writing career, Hurston returned to Eatonville and began publishing her works after graduation.

Hurston’s literary career flourished immensely from 1930s to early 1940s. Her achievements during this time include the completion of graduate work at Columbia and publishing four novels in addition to an autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road which was a commercial success in 1942. Her greatest novel, Their Eyes were Watching God was published in 1937. Some of her works such as, Tell My Horse (1938) drove inspiration from the practice of voodoo and supernatural elements, something she witnessed on her trip to the Caribbean. Unlike her earlier works, Hurston’s last novel, Seraph on the Suwanee, published in 1948 did not manage to gain favorable critical acclaim.

After being charged and arrested for molesting a 10 year old boy, the 1940s marked the decline of Hurston’s writing career. And although she was not found guilty of the crime, no publisher was willing to publish her work. The repetitive rejection sunk Hurston into deep sorrow, causing severe depression. She returned to Florida some time during the 1950s and tried to support herself by undertaking a number of unsuccessful jobs such as being a substitute teacher, newspaper journalist, house maid and librarian. However, unfortunately, she was unable to settle down into a single career and was left penniless. Her life ended in poverty on January 28, 1960 after suffering a fatal stroke. Zora Neale Hurston was buried at an unmarked grave in Fort Pierce, Florida.

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