Author, Anthropologist. Born the daughter of a Baptist preacher and carpenter John Hurston and former schoolteacher Lucy Potts Hurston, Zora Neale Hurston was the fifth of eight children. Long believed to have been born in Eatonville, Florida, which is stated to have been the first "all black" town incorporated in the United States, subsequent research has shown that she was actually born in Notasulga, Alabama. Her family relocated to Eatonville when she was very young, where her father would later be elected three times as mayor. Hurston herself was the source of several varying dates for her birth, leading to conflicting accounts in biographies until census records finally established that she was in fact born in 1891. Hurston's mother died when she was thirteen and, coupled with her father's remarriage, this undoubtedly led to her wandering spirit. Accounts of her young teenage years place her living in the households of various relatives, working as a maid for whites, and serving as a wardrobe girl for a traveling Gilbert & Sullivan performance company. Eventually, she enrolled at what is now Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland while working as a maid. In the fall of 1918, she enrolled at Howard University in Washington, DC where she took classes off and on until 1924. The year 1925 found her in New York City where she became one of the contributors of the Harlem Renaissance, her contemporaries including Langston Hughes, Countée Cullen, and W.E.B. DuBois. Although early works such as her short story "John Redding Goes to Sea” had been published in 1921 while at Howard, it was after her initial arrival in New York that she eventually succeeded in having such works published as "Sweat" in 1926, "How It Feels to Be Colored Me" in 1928, "The Gilded Six-Bits" in 1933, "Jonah's Gourd Vine" in 1934, "Mules and Men" in 1935, "Tell My Horse" in 1937, and perhaps her best-known work, "Their Eyes Were Watching God" in 1937. During this period, Hurston attended Barnard College on a scholarship, later meeting noted anthropologist Franz Boas who encouraged her to pursue a degree in anthropology. Coupled with a fellowship from the Carter G. Woodson Foundation and later with financial support from arts patron Charlotte Osgood Mason, Hurston pursued fieldwork in her native south, collecting folklore and other material in Alabama and Florida. She received her degree in anthropology from Barnard College in 1928. In 1932 Hurston created a concert program of African-American art at Rollins College in Florida. Later, while traveling the country presenting various musical revues, she was offered a fellowship to pursue a doctorate degree in anthropology and folklore at Columbia University in New York City. Although she initially accepted the offer, she later backed out of the program, preferring to work on other projects. She would later receive an honorary Litt.D. degree from Morgan College in 1939. In late 1935 or early 1936 she received a Guggenheim fellowship, leading to her gathering of folklore in the Caribbean for "Tell My Horse" in 1937, her second book of folklore. In late 1941 or early 1942 Hurston served as a story consultant for Paramount Studios, and not long afterward published her autobiography, "Dust Tracks on a Road" in 1942. Numerous essays and magazine articles followed, appearing in such publications as "The Saturday Evening Post" and "Reader's Digest." During World War II, Hurston lived in St. Augustine, Florida and taught part-time at Florida Norman College. Receiving rejections for her next few novels, it would be several years before Hurston would again be published with her book "Seraph on the Suwanee" in 1948. It would prove to be her last novel. After residing in New York again in the late 1940s, the 1950s found her living in Florida and drifting into obscurity, working for brief periods as a librarian or a reporter, but most often as a maid. In 1959 she suffered a stroke and subsequently entered the St. Lucie County Welfare Home in Ft. Pierce, Florida, where she died on January 28, 1960, penniless. A collection was taken up for her funeral, and she was buried in an unmarked grave in the segregated cemetery Garden of Heavenly Rest in Ft. Pierce. By the late 1970s, interest in Zora Neale Hurston and her writings had begun to receive attention once again, thanks in no small part to noted writer Alice Walker, who had penned a forward about Hurston in Robert E. Hemenway's "Zora Neale Hurston: A Literary Biography" in 1977 and who would continue to honor Hurston as a significant voice in American literature. In the years that followed, the University of Florida has created the Zora Neale Hurston Fellowship in Anthropology, the city of Orlando has named a city building after her, the community of Eatonville has held the Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities annually since 1989 and has also erected the Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts. In 1973 her grave was adorned with a headstone placed there by Alice Walker which reads, "Zora Neale Hurston – A Genius of the South – 1901-1960 – Novelist – Folklorist – Anthropologist." In 1934 she established a school of dramatic arts based on black expression at Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida. In 2018 she was recognized by the National Society of Daughters of the American Resolution with the "Women of American History Award." Birth date on headstone is incorrect.
Bio by: Spaceman Spiff
A Genius of the South