Zora Neale Hurston Additional Biography


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Zora Neale Hurston was born in 1891 in the all-black town of Eatonville, Florida, near Orlando. She was the youngest daughter and the seventh of eight children born to John and Lucy Hurston. Her father was a minister and local government official who wrote many of Eatonville’s laws upon its incorporation and served several terms as mayor. Her mother was a homemaker who cared not only for her children but also for an extended family that included, at various times, her own mother and her brother Jim. By all accounts, Hurston’s childhood was happy, almost idyllic, free from the poverty and racism that characterized much of the black experience in the South. Indeed, this wholesome upbringing informed much of Hurston’s later work and earned for her the designation as an early black cultural nationalist.

Whatever idyllic aspects Hurston’s childhood possessed were shattered when Hurston was about nine. The death of Hurston’s beloved mother, who encouraged the young Zora to “jump at the sun,” precipitated a change. This was followed by her father’s remarriage to a woman who had no interest in the children and the subsequent dismantling of the relative happiness of the Hurston household. The next several years of Hurston’s life found her much displaced, living variously with older siblings and receiving only sporadic schooling.

Although exact dates are difficult to place in Hurston’s early chronology because she frequently lied about her age, various sources reveal that Hurston joined a Gilbert and Sullivan traveling show when she was about fourteen as a wardrobe maid to one of the show’s stars. Hurston worked for this show for several years, traveling throughout the South, sometimes without pay. It was with this show, however, that Hurston’s talents as raconteur were first noticed, as she often entertained the company with stories, anecdotes, and tales from the black South, told with their own humor, mimicry, and dialect.

Hurston left her job with the Gilbert and Sullivan show in Baltimore, and, out of an intense desire to complete her education, she enrolled in the high school department of the Morgan Academy (now Morgan State University) in that city, completing the high school program in 1919. From Morgan, Hurston entered Howard University, at that time known as “the Negro Harvard,” in Washington, D.C. At Howard, Hurston soon came to the attention of Alain Locke, adviser to the Howard Literary Society and later a principal critic of the New Negro movement. Locke invited Hurston to join the literary society, and she soon began publishing in Stylus, the Howard University literary magazine. Her first published short story, “John Redding Goes to Sea,” appeared in Stylus in 1921.


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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

ph_0111201226-Hurston.jpg Zora Neale Hurston. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Zora Neale Hurston was born on January 7, 1891, though she was later to list her birth date as 1901, taking a full decade out of her life. She was born in Eatonville, Florida, the first black incorporated town in the United States. Her father, John Hurston, a local minister, also served three terms as mayor of the town and wrote its laws. Her mother, Lucy Ann Potts Hurston, did the most to encourage young Zora’s spirit and learning.

It was when Hurston entered high school in 1917, after having spent some time traveling with a Gilbert and Sullivan troupe, that she came up with her revised birthday, to make herself appear still a teenager. In 1918, she entered the Howard Prep School at Howard University to catch up on...

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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Zora Neale Hurston was born on January 7, 1891, in Alabama. Later, her family lived in the all-black Florida town of Eatonville in an eight-room house with a five-acre garden. Her father, the Reverend John Hurston, mayor of Eatonville for three terms and moderator of the South Florida Baptist Association, wanted to temper his daughter’s high spirits, but her intelligent and forceful mother, Lucy Potts Hurston, encouraged her to “jump at de sun.” When Hurston was about nine years old, her mother died. That event and her father’s rapid remarriage to a woman his daughter did not like prematurely ended Hurston’s childhood. In the next few years, she lived only intermittently at home, spending some time at a school in...

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(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Zora Neale Hurston was born in the first incorporated all-black town in America; her father was one of its influential citizens. Her identity was formed in Eatonville; her works clearly show her attachments to that community. When Hurston was nine, her mother died. Hurston was moved among relatives, deprived of a stable home.

She worked to support herself from an early age; at only fourteen she worked as a maid with a touring Gilbert and Sullivan troupe. She later went to night school in Baltimore to catch up on her schooling, to Howard University, and to Barnard College as a scholarship student. She loved learning. Settled in New York in the early 1920’s, Hurston filled her life with people who encouraged her work and gave her advice. Some of the most important of these were white: novelist Fanny Hurst and anthropologist Franz Boas, for example. Yet her identity comes from her own people: African American folklore was the focus of her research, and black women’s experience informs her best work.

Hurston was influenced by the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s and is considered one of its stars, but she was not readily accepted in the movement at the time. Protest writers such as Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison found her writing “quaint” and “romantic.” She speaks in a clear feminine voice that, if not full of protest, affirms the black woman’s identity. Hurston was equally at home with upper-class whites and poor blacks, but she never forgot her heritage.

Hurston’s most important works were published during the 1930’s: her collection of folklore, Mules and Men, in 1935; her novels Jonah’s Gourd Vine and her masterpiece Their Eyes Were Watching God in 1934 and 1937 respectively. An autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road, was published in 1942. She was married and divorced twice.

Throughout her life Hurston was compelled to discover and translate the Southern black, often female, existence. In her collections of folklore, her fiction, her articles, and her life, she presented her people honestly and sympathetically, faithfully recording their language and their beliefs. Not until after her death was the significance of her work fully appreciated. She died in a welfare home in 1960 and was buried in an unmarked grave. In 1973, acclaimed black writer Alice Walker found Hurston’s grave and led a revival of interest in her work.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Zora Neale Hurston, the most important female writer of the Harlem Renaissance, was noted for her collections of folktales and for her original novels, plays, and poems. Although for decades her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road, misled readers about certain facts of her life, it is now certain that she was born the seventh of eight children in 1891, in Eatonville, Florida, the first incorporated all-black town in the United States. Her parents were Lucy Ann Potts, a former schoolteacher, and John Hurston, a carpenter and self-ordained Baptist minister. After her mother died in 1904, her father remarried, and Hurston was sent to school in Jacksonville until her father refused to pay any more of the bills; she then...

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(Short Stories for Students)

Zora Neale Hurston was born in 1903 in Eatonville, Florida, according to some sources. Others place her birth as early as January 7, 1891,...

(The entire section is 525 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Zora Neale Hurston's colorful life was a strange mixture of acclaim and censure, success and poverty, pride and shame. However, her varied...

(The entire section is 601 words.)