Zora Neale Hurston was born on the 7th of January in 1891, in Notasulga, Alabama. She was a brilliant daughter of John Hurston, a Baptist preacher, who later became a carpenter, and her mother, Lucy Ann Hurston, was a schoolteacher. Soon after Zora’s birth, the family moved to Eatonville town considered the first all-black town in Florida. Hurston considers this place as her hometown as she moved there when she was so young. Unfortunately, her life took a sharp turn in 1904 when her mother left her and her father hastily remarried Mattie Moge the following year. Life became challenging for her after the arrival of her stepmother but she fought against all the odds courageously and emerged as a prolific figure in the literary world.
Zora failed to develop a cordial relationship with her stepmother. She was sent to boarding school in Jacksonville but was soon expelled. To make ends meet, she took up some odd jobs. Later, in 1917, she was enrolled in Morgan Academy in Baltimore and graduated a year later. After graduation, she attended Harvard University, where she studied from 1919 to 1994. After securing a scholarship, she switched to Barnard College and completed her degree in 1928. She also studied folklore and anthropology from Columbia University. However, her interest in literature grew during her early years when some northern schoolteachers visited her town and gifted her many literary books.
Zora Neale Hurston, a great American author, remained unfortunate in terms of the marriage. She married thrice in her life. Unfortunately, all her marriages ended in divorce. She was first married to a Jazz musician and a former teacher, Herbert Sheen, in 1927. They failed to develop a lifelong relationship, and the relationship ended in 1931. Later, in 1939, she married Albert Prince and this marriage, too, ended soon. However, shortly after her divorce, she married for the third time, and that marriage too lasted a year.
Some Important Facts of Her Life
- She established a school of dramatic arts in 1934 that was based on pure Negro expression.
- In recognition of her achievements for human relations and education, she received the Bethune-Cookman College Award in 1956.
- She died of heart disease on the 28th of January in 1960 and was buried at the Garden of Heavenly Rest, Florida.
Zora led a difficult life. However, all those obstacles could not impede her writing abilities. She emerged as a literary force to be reckoned with her narrations of the African American experience, She published many short stories and won admiration for her autobiographical essay, “How It Feels to be Colored Me” in which she accounts her childhood experiences in white areas. Later, in 1934, she weaved the story of a flawed man in her first novel, Jonah’s Gourd Vine. This publication followed by another short story collection, Mules and Men. Upon receiving warm acceptance, she produced her masterpiece, Their Eyes Were Watching God in 1937. The novel deals with the life of Janie Mae, who learns self-reliance through tragedy and multiple marriages. The novel was highly acclaimed, as well as criticized. However, her next autobiographical work, Dust Tracks on a Road was warmly received by the critics. Her other notable works include Mule-Bone, The Great Day, Sun to Sun, and several other pieces.
Zora’s marvelous literary pieces have won her a unique place among the African-American writers. Her popularity rests on the uniqueness of her ideas. It is also that her own difficult life provided her with a chance to observe things closely. Therefore, she expressed the ideas of marriage, tragedy, and good and bad in her works such as; “How It Feels to be Colored Me”, Jonah’s Gourd Vine, and Their Eyes Were Watching God. Most of her writings reflect the recreation of the Southern black rural dialect. That is why her pieces depict the close relationships among black residents and that she did not talk much about racial injustices. The recurring themes in her works include power and domination, inequality, racial segregation, identity, and the crisis of identity and race. She has also used diverse literary terms which include metaphors, personifications, similes, imagery, and various others.
Some Important Works of Zora Neale Hurston
- Best Novels: Some of her remarkable works include Jonah’s Gourd Vine, besides her masterpiece Their Eyes were Watching God, while Man of the Mountain and Seraph on the Suwanee are two other notable works.
- Other Works: Besides novels, she tried her hands on other genres of literature too. Some of them include “The Gilded Six-Bits”, “Sweat”, Dust Tracks on a Road, Mules and Men, Color Struck.
Zora Neale Hurston’s Impact on Future Literature
Zora Neale Hurston was a dynamic writer who started writing at a young age and won the hearts and minds of the writers of her age. Her approach toward writing both as a creative artist and as an anthropologist had influenced many great writers. She successfully brought into light the concept of love and relationship. She expressed her thoughts and ideas in her literary pieces so well that she has left her own unique style in the world of literature.
- “Love is lak de sea. It’s uh movin’ thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it’s different with every shore.” (Their Eyes Were Watching God)
- “All gods who receive homage are cruel. All gods dispense suffering without reason. Otherwise, they would not be worshipped. Through indiscriminate suffering, men know fear and fear is the most divine emotion. It is the stones for altars and the beginning of wisdom. Half gods are worshipped in wine and flowers. Real gods require blood.” (Their Eyes Were Watching God)
- “I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor 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.” (Dust Tracks on a Road)