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Zora Neale Hurston is an important part of the canon of twentieth-century American literature for several reasons. While one could claim that the most important reason is the quality of her writing, that is a somewhat subjective matter, as people can reasonably disagree over whether they consider books well- or badly written.

The first reason students are asked to read her work is that she represents a women's voice in the Harlem Renaissance, a movement of predominantly male African-American writers. Her perspective is therefore unusual. She is a forerunner of the more recent black female writers such as Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker and important to understanding them. She is also distinctive in being a conservative voice, unlike many of her more liberal peers.

Next, she writes about the early free black cities of Florida, which gives many of her characters roots in an African-American tradition that is not dominated by racism and slavery, but in black success.

Finally, as well as being a creative writer, she studied anthropology and collected, studied, and preserved African-American folklore. Her distinctive use of African-American dialect in part reflects this desire to preserve and make public the unique artifacts of her cultural tradition.

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