Zora Neale Hurston

(1891-1960), American

Born to John and Lucy Ann Hurston, her father, and mother, just off the year that slavery was abolished, Hurston moved to Florida with her parents at a young age. By the time she turned thirteen, the same period of her mother’s passing and father’s subsequent remarriage, Hurston already had a lot she was grappling with – including having to find her place in a large family, her yearning for affection when she needed it the most, and in her adult age, lacking the needed financial support to follow through on her dreams. This article provides all you need to know about the life and works of iconic author Zora Neale Hurston.

Life Facts

  • Zora Neale Hurston was a novelist, poet, and anthropologist believed to be born on January 7th, 1891.
  • Her actual birthplace after historical fact-checks is Notasulga, Alabama.
  • Her father, John Hurston, and Mother, Lucy Ann Hurston, were former slaves.
  • When Zora was still a toddler, her father, John Hurston, a pastor, moved the family to Florida.
  • Zora lost her mother, Lucy Hurston, at a very young age.

Interesting Facts

  • Hurston’s mother’s early passing meant she spent her childhood surrounded by multiple extended family members.
  • Despite her large family, she didn’t really get the love and attention that she wanted.
  • As she came of age, and with means hard to come by, Hurston did a number of odd, menial jobs to be able to fund her education and take care of her other needs.
  • She eventually went to Howard University – where she published one of her earliest works.
  • Hurston’s legacy was nearly forgotten; it took another acclaimed writer to resurrect interest in her life and literary works.

Famous Books by Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston, beyond her seemingly contradictory point of view, was an avid writer and creative storyteller who churned out several quality literary works in novels, poems, plays, essays, and short stories.

People of her contemporary considered her works, at the very least, off, misleading, and lacking the true narrative of what a typical African American people – with some even labeling her works dubious and upsetting of the unity in society and among races.

Despite several criticisms, the author’s input in the body of literature is respected and undeniable, with her back catalog including a list of insightful books and essays across the fields of literature, anthropology, and politics.

Their Eyes Were Watching God’ stands to be Zora Neale Hurston’s most renowned book and bestseller, even though the work appears to be such a disappointment to the people and body of literature in the era in which it was published. This book saw more than a few criticisms – from its lingua to its unpopular gender-sensitive opinions to a certain ‘accused’ misrepresentation of the African American in the south.

Despite the drilling, Hurston’s ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ surged into popularity a few years after her passing following an inquiry by Alice Walker into the life and body of Hurston’s works. Since then, appreciation for the book has grown exponentially and is still widely demanded in today’s academic setting, and of course, as a reference for an important part of black history in Florida.

Jonah’s Gourd Vine’ is the earliest novel Zora Neale Hurston ever put out, and this one came out in 1934. The book seems to be inspired by the life and marital experience of Zora Neale Hurston’s parents, John and Lucy Ann Hurston. The plot details the tale of a married preacher who so happens to also love other women – including the one that uses a hoodoo spell on him – outside of his marriage.

Barracoon’ follows an epic nonfiction written by Zora Neale Hurston based on the touching life account of Cudjo Lewis, the last surviving member of the African American slave generation. Hurston wrote and finished the book in 1931, but it would not be published until nearly a century later. The book is one of the finest works of the author and has been received well by critics for its pristine, real-life coverage of slavery based on the life of Oluale Kossola, also known as Cudjo Lewis.

Early Life and Education

In the year 1891, in Notasulga, Alabama, former African American slaves John and Lucy Ann Hurston welcomed their girl child Zora Neale Hurston to their already large family.

In 1904, at age 13, Hurston moved with her family to Eatonville, Florida, a place where the family saw an element of good fortune following her father’s popularity and rise to the office of a mayor.

Despite it being one of the good times for Hurston, it also represented a trying time for young Hurston, particularly with the trauma that came from the loss of her mother, and her busy father’s emotional unavailability.

Things would then grow from better to worse when Hurston entered her teenage and was schooling at a missionary school – with her father barely able to cover her funding. Based on this, Hurston dropped out at an early age to pick up casual jobs to try and cater to her most pressing needs.

She was fortunate to finish high school at Morgan College after which she bagged a degree from Howard University, an institution which greatly shaped her – not only through academic works but also through the caliber of people – like Langston Hughs and Countee Cullen – she met and became friends and colleagues with.

Literary Career

Zora Neale Hurston is recognized today as one of the most prominent writers from the Harlem Renaissance, yet her literary journey didn’t start from childhood as most acclaimed writers did.

Hurston’s earliest interest in creative writing didn’t come until she was deep into her college years, at which time she dis a short story that was later published by the school magazine at the time. This was considered one of the first pieces she ever wrote.

Hurston published her first novel ‘Jonah’s Gourd Vine’ while living in Sanford, Florida, around 1933, and traveled a lot as part of her course work in anthropology and ethnography fields. Her trips took her far and wide – from Haiti to Jamaica to other Caribbean countries – as they covered mostly the African American narrative of Atlantic slave survivors.

From the experiences of such travels, Hurston would go on to write several inspired books, among whom would be her most important work, ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ – a book that has continued to inspire generations more than 80 years after its initial publication.

Literature by Zora Neale Hurston

Explore literature by Zora Neale Hurston below, created by the team at Book Analysis.