Zora Neale Hurston was a writer, poet and anthropologist. She was born on January 7, 1891 in Notasulga, Alabama, but she spent her childhood years in Eatonville, Florida, an all black community where her father became the mayor. In her story, Their Eyes Are Watching God, a similar place is depicted where black folks can control their own community.
In 1940, her mother passed and she was sent to a boarding school in Jacksonville, Fl. Through determination, she graduated from high school in 1918 at the age of 26. She was forced to lie about her age to qualify for a free education. She went on to attend Howard College and then Barnard College at Columbia University where she studied anthropology and conducted ethnographic research. She received her B.A. in 1928 at the age of 37.
When Hurston moved to NYC, she met the Harlem Renaissance at its peak. There she participated and contributed to the creative awakening. She worked with Langston Hughes and several other artists to produce Fire!!!, a African-American literary magazine featuring the African-American experience and expression.
During her time as an anthropologist in the American South, she produced Mules and Men (1935), a work focused on African-American folklore. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, she continued to travel and write in the Jamaica, Haiti and Honduras.
In her later years, she was forced to take jobs as they came, whether it was a magazine essay or working as a maid. In 1959, she passed away and was left buried in an unmarked grave until the 1970s, when thankfully, Alice Walker reclaimed a space for her.
Zora Neale Hurston wrote for herself, and to the people. Her life reflects that of struggle, loss, love and strong statements. We honor her by remembering her, reading her works, and rejoicing in her words.
Below is an excerpt from her essay, How It Feels to Be Colored Me (1928).
But I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, not lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all. I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are all hurt about it. Even in the helter-skelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less. No, I do not weep at the world–I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.
Someone is always at my elbow reminding me that I am the grand-daughter of slaves. It fails to register depression with me. Slavery is sixty years in the past. The operation was successful and the patient is doing well, thank you. The terrible struggle that made me an American out of a potential slave said “On the line!” The Reconstruction said “Get set!”, and the generation before said “Go!” I am off to a flying start and I must for civilization, and the choice was not with me. It is a bully adventure and worth all that I have paid through my ancestors for it. No one on earth even had a great chance of glory. The world to be won and nothing to be lost. It is thrilling to think– to know that for any act of mine, I shall get twice as much praise or twice as much blame. It is quite exciting to hold the center of the national stage, with the spectators not knowing whether to laugh or to weep.