Thank you Zora!
In the world of literary icons who also doubled as activists and Black crusaders, there are those we hold in high regard, a Mount Rushmore of Black literary giants that include the likes of Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, and Nikki Giovanni. And while there are a host of new Black authors giving voice to our experiences, the words of our elders remain the foundation for which all other things are built.
Still, there are some trailblazers whose work just doesn’t get enough credit. Chief among those is Ms. Zora Neale Hurston. Born January 7, 1891, in Notasulga, Alabama, Hurston moved with her family to Eatonville, Florida when she was just a child, the rural community near Orlando becoming the place she called home. One of the country’s first incorporated Black townships, Eatonville gave Zora the affirmation of Blackness she needed to launch unapologetically into the world.
She eventually traveled away from home after the death of her mother, pursuing her education and allowing her intellect and wit to get her in rooms all across the nation. Considered the life of the party, a scholar, anthropologist, and a darling of the Harlem Renaissance, Hurston became a favorite of many artists during the time. With a knack for words, Hurston put pen to paper to write her musings, recanting Black life and Southern folklore with an enthusiasm that would take years for her contemporaries to appreciate. In 1937, she published her timeless classic, Their Eyes Were Watching God, finally receiving many of her accolades later in life. While respected among her peers, Hurston never received the financial compensation she deserved, and her work went largely hidden for generations after her death.
In recent years, there has been a newfound interest in Hurston’s work and in 2019, HarperCollins published a collection of Hurston’s lost stories in Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick.
“These stories challenge conceptions of Hurston as an author of rural fiction and include gems that flash with her biting, satiric humor, as well as more serious tales reflective of the cultural currents of Hurston’s world,” the publisher wrote.
Hurston’s work needs to be talked about more and there are still pockets of genius left to unearth. To help us all get a head start, we’ve shared a timeline of significant milestones in Hurston’s life below, courtesy of The Official Website of Zora Neale Hurston.
January 7, 1891
Born in Notasulga, Alabama, the fifth of eight children, to John Hurston, a carpenter and Baptist preacher, and Lucy Potts Hurston, a former schoolteacher.
September 1917 – June 1918
Attends Morgan Academy in Baltimore, completing the high school requirements.
Works as a waitress in a nightclub and a manicurist in a black-owned barbershop that only serves whites.
1918 – 1919
Attends Howard Prep School, Washington, D.C.
1919 – 1924
Attends Howard University; receives an associate degree in 1920.
Publishes her first story, “John Redding Goes to Sea,” in Stylus, the campus literary society’s magazine.
Publishes “Drenched in Light,” a short story, in Opportunity.
Submits a story, Spunk, and a play, “Color Struck,” to Opportunity’s literary contest. Both win a second-place award; publishes “Spunk” in the June number.
1925 – 1927
Attends Barnard College, studying anthropology with Franz Boas.
Begins field work for Boas in Harlem.
Publishes “John Redding Goes to Sea” in Opportunity.
Organizes Fire! with Langston Hughes and Wallace Thurman; they publish only one issue, in November 1926. The issue includes Hurston’s “Sweat.”
Publishes “Muttsy” in Opportunity.
Publishes “Possum or Pig” in the Forum.
September – November 1926
Publishes “The Eatonville Anthology” in the Messenger.
Publishes The First One, a play, in Charles S. Johnson’s “Ebony and Topaz.”
Goes to Florida to collect folklore.
May 19, 1927
Marries Herbert Sheen.
First visits Mrs. Rufus Osgood Mason, seeking patronage.
Publishes an account of the black settlement at St. Augustine, Florida, in the Journal of Negro History; also in this issue: “Cudjo’s Own Story of the Last African Slaver.”
Signs a contract with Mason, enabling her to return to the South to collect folklore.
Satirized as “Sweetie Mae Carr” in Wallace Thurman’s novel about the Harlem Renaissance Infants of the Spring; receives a Bachelor of Arts degree from Barnard.
Relations with Sheen break off.
Publishes “How It Feels to be Colored Me” in The World Tomorrow.
1930 – 1932
Organizes the field notes that become Mules and Men.
May – June 1930
Works on the play Mule Bone with Langston Hughes.
Publishes “Hoodoo in America” in the Journal of American Folklore.
Breaks with Langston Hughes over the authorship of Mule Bone.
July 7, 1931
Writes for a theatrical revue called Fast and Furious.
Writes and stages a theatrical revue called The Great Day, first performed on January 10 on Broadway at the John Golden Theatre; works with the creative literature department of Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida, to produce a concert program of Negro music.
Writes “The Fiery Chariot.”
Stages From Sun to Sun (a version of Great Day) at Rollins College.
Publishes “The Gilded Six-Bits” in Story.
Publishes six essays in Nancy Cunard’s anthology, Negro.
Goes to Bethune-Cookman College to establish a school of dramatic arts “based on pure Negro expression.”
Publishes Jonah’s Gourd Vine, originally titled Big Nigger; it is a Book-of-the-Month Club selection.
Publishes “The Fire and the Cloud” in the Challenge.
Singing Steel (a version of Great Day) was performed in Chicago.
Begins to study for a Ph.D. in anthropology at Columbia University on a fellowship from the Rosenwald Foundation.
Joins the WPA Federal Theater Project as a “dramatic coach.”
Mules and Men published.
Awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to study West Indian obeah practices.
April – September 1936
September – March 1937
In Haiti; writes Their Eyes Were Watching God in seven weeks.
Returns to Haiti on a renewed Guggenheim.
Returns to the United States; Their Eyes Were Watching God published, September 18th.
February – March 1938
Writes Tell My Horse; it was published the same year.
Joins the Federal Writers Project in Florida to work on The Florida Negro.
Publishes “Now Take Noses” in Cordially Yours.
Marries Albert Price.
Receives an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Morgan State College.
Hired as a drama instructor by North Carolina College for Negroes at Durham; meets Paul Green, professor of drama, at the University of North Carolina.
Moses, Man of the Mountain published.
Files for divorce from Price, though the two are reconciled briefly.
Makes a folklore-collecting trip to South Carolina.
Spring – July 1941
Writes Dust Tracks on a Road.
Publishes “Cock Robin, Beale Street” in the Southern Literary Messenger.
October 1941-January 1942
Works as a story consultant at Paramount Pictures.
Publishes “Story in Harlem Slang” in the American Mercury.
September 5, 1942
Publishes a profile of Lawrence Silas in the Saturday Evening Post.
Dust Tracks on a Road published.
Awarded the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in Race Relations for Dust Tracks; on the cover of the Saturday Review.
Receives Howard University’s Distinguished Alumni Award.
Publishes “The ‘Pet Negro’ Syndrome” in the American Mercury.
Divorce from Price granted.
Marries James Howell Pitts.
Publishes “My Most Humiliating Jim Crow Experience” in the Negro Digest.
Writes Mrs. Doctor; it is rejected by Lippincott.
Publishes “The Rise of the Begging Joints” in the American Mercury.
Publishes “Crazy for This Democracy” in the Negro Digest.
Publishes a review of Robert Tallant’s Voodoo in New Orleans in the Journal of American Folklore.
Goes to British Honduras to research black communities in Central America; writes Seraph on the Suwanee; stays in Honduras until March 1948.
Seraph on the Suwanee published.
Publishes “Conscience of the Court” in the Saturday Evening Post while working as a maid in Rivo Island, Florida.
Publishes “What White Publishers Won’t Print” in the Saturday Evening Post.
Publishes “I Saw Negro Votes Peddled” in the American Legion magazine.
Winter 1950 – 1951
Moves to Belle Glade, Florida.
Publishes “Why the Negro Won’t Buy Communism” in the American Legion magazine.
December 8, 1951
Publishes “A Negro Voter Sizes up Taft” in the Saturday Evening Post.
Hired by the Pittsburgh Courier to cover the Ruby McCollum case.
Receives an award for “education and human relations” at Bethune-Cookman College.
Works as a librarian at Patrick Air Force Base in Florida.
1957 – 1959
Writes a column on “Hoodoo and Black Magic” for the Fort Pierce Chronicle.
Works as a substitute teacher at Lincoln Park Academy, Fort Pierce.
Suffers a stroke.
Forced to enter the St. Lucie County Welfare Home.
January 28, 1960
Dies in the St. Lucie County Welfare Home of “hypertensive heart disease”; buried in an unmarked grave in the Garden of Heavenly Rest, Fort Pierce.
Alice Walker discovers and marks Hurston’s grave.
Walker publishes “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston,” in Ms., launching a Hurston revival.
Zora lives! Because of her, we can.
Here’s why we should be talking about Zora Neale Hurston more. Photo Courtesy of ZoraNealeHurston.com