Zora Neale Hurston Biography

Like so many writers, Zora Neale Hurston was ahead of her time and not fully appreciated by her contemporaries, but she is now considered one of the most important African American women of the twentieth century. Her most famous work is the 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. One of its key (but controversial) features was the use of dialogue in an African American dialect. Though some critics at the time, including many from the African American community, viewed the novel’s dialogue as caricatured, it would become a celebrated trademark of Hurston’s writing. Her uncompromising novels later influenced seminal African American writers such as Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, and Alice Walker.

Facts and Trivia

  • Eatonville, Florida, where Hurston grew up, was an all-black incorporated town, which her father was elected mayor of in 1897.
  • John Hurston and Lucy Ann Potts, Hurston's parents, were both former slaves.
  • After her mother's death, Hurston's father and stepmother sent her to boarding school in Jacksonville, Florida, but eventually stopped paying the tuition, and Hurston was expelled.
  • Although highly regarded as a literary figure, Hurston originally studied anthropology, receiving a bachelor’s degree in that field from Barnard College.
  • Hurston was one of many artists who contributed to a period known as the Harlem Renaissance, a cultural flourishing of literature, art, and music by and about African Americans.
  • Despite the leftist leanings of fellow Renaissance members like Langston Hughes, Hurston was ardently conservative.
  • Hurston did not believe that integration was a positive step for black culture, fearing that it would be diluted (if not eliminated) by its absorption into white society.
  • Hurston was buried in an unmarked grave. Although Alice Walker later placed a gravestone over where some believe Hurston was buried, the exact location of her final resting place remains unknown.
  • Though her work is celebrated today, Hurston, due to medical and financial problems, died in a county welfare home.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2169

Article abstract: The most accomplished African American woman writing in the first half of the twentieth century, Zora Neale Hurston was a major writer of the Harlem Renaissance and an important influence on later generations of women writers.

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Early Life

Zora Neale Hurston’s hometown was Eatonville, Florida, a self-governing all-black town that allowed her to develop a sense of individuality. One of eight children, she was urged to “jump at de sun” by her mother, who tried to preserve her high spirits so that she would not become, in Zora’s words, “ a mealy-mouthed rag doll.” Her father, however, feared that her audacious spirit would not be tolerated by white America and often punished her for impudence. A minister and three-term mayor of Eatonville, John Hurston was something of a hero among the townsfolk, and Zora would devote a novel (Jonah’s Gourd Vine, 1934) largely to his life story. Yet she was also fascinated by her mother, who molded John Hurston into the successful public man that he became. Lucy Ann Potts Hurston was perhaps the only person in town who did not regard her husband with awe. As Zora described their relationship in her autobiography, “the one who makes the idols never worships them, however tenderly he might have molded the clay.” Zora observed with keen interest how Lucy Ann, with a few simple words, could confound the very arguments for which townsfolk or church members praised John.

Zora read widely, preferring adventure stories such as Gulliver’s Travels , Norse mythology, and the Greek myth of Hercules to stories that urged little girls to become dutiful and domesticated. Eatonville gave her a strong sense of herself, but she was also impatient with small town restrictions. “My soul was with the gods...

(The entire section contains 2169 words.)

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