The high points of Zora Neale Hurston’s career came mostly from the popularity of her novels, plays, and anthropological works, as well as her courageous political views. But, there were also several controversial and eye-dropping stories about the life of Hurston. In this article, ten fascinating facts about Zora Neale Hurston, author of ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God,’ will be discussed.
Hurston’s birthplace is Notasulga, not Eatonville
As opposed to Eatonville – which is the author’s admission per her place of birth, Notasulga, Alabama, is a place widely taken by biographers as Hurston’s original place of birth.
Hurston developed such a tight bond with Eatonville, Florida, an all-black community where she had spent the majority of her childhood and early adulthood, even featuring the place as one of the major geographical settings of her book, ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God.’
She was the mayor’s daughter
Three years after her birth in 1891, Hurston moved to Eatonville, Florida, with her family. The place was a safe haven for black people in a time when there was extreme marginalization and limitations to the race.
At Eatonville, Hurston’s father, John, a preacher of the Baptist, grew in popularity and trust among the town’s people and was soon appointed as the mayor, a position he would occupy for three tenures.
So this put Hurston in a vantage position as being the mayor’s daughter, and it frankly worked for her good, being that she went on and got educated for at least the duration of her father’s office term.
She lost her mother at the age of 13
Hurston losing her mother at the age of 13 was, without a doubt, one of the biggest blows to her life. Without Lucy Hurston not there to guide Hurston through these important, formative years, she became prey to a lot of life’s issues.
Loneliness, lack of attention and guidance, and a sort of unfillable vacuum in her heart were some of the things she probably felt – and even though her father and all her siblings played important roles in protecting and loving her, it could never make up for such a tremendous loss, emotionally.
Hurston worked in a nightclub as a waitress
During her most trying times, Hurston had no choice but to pick up odd jobs just to get by and support herself through school. The pressure became even more real when her father could no longer pay for her school fees, and she dropped out.
Having moved out from home and renting her own place still within Florida, Hurston tried her hands on a number of odd jobs – one of which was serving as a waitress in a nightclub. The author did this at the time to find her education and pay her rent.
To qualify for a free school, Hurston lied about her age
When Hurston was 24 years old, an opportunity came for her to be one of the beneficiaries of free education, but this was only open to teenagers, and the author was well past the age.
To stand a chance, the author had to slash 10 years off her real age to qualify. This paid off, and she got the free school – which allowed her to complete high school, but from here, she never went back to her real age.
She was the first black graduate of Barnard College
When Hurston moved to Harlem, New York, in the early 1920s, she made a resounding impact in the community with her works – from which she later won four awards.
Her newfound fame in Harlem attracted the attention of other great writers and literary stakeholders, including Fanny Hurst and Langston Hughes, among others.
Also happy with her works was the founder of Barnard College, Annie Nathan Meyer, who invited her for a scholarship enrolment in the institute. A few years later, Hurston graduated as the first black person from the school, having been certified with a degree in anthropology and ethnography.
Hurston lived and died in penury despite her prolific literary
Zora Neale Hurston didn’t quite make a lot of money while she was alive despite her prolific writings and publications – some of which even won awards.
If it were today’s society, she would obviously have made more bank for her works, but in the time for which she lived, writers didn’t get paid much – and it was even much worse for a female black writer.
This was the reason the author would often opt for a menial job from time to time so as to be able to take care of her personal needs. The author eventually died broke and without any penny, with her grave left unmarked and nearly lost and her works almost forgotten.
Her grave was left unmarked for 13 years
Hurston passed on in 1960, and for several years after her death, her grave was left unmarked because neither she nor any of her close relatives could buy her a gravestone.
13 years after the author’s death, a young writer by the name of Alice Walker came along, and not only did she help find and mark Hurston’s tomb – tagging it ‘Zora Neale Hurston: A Genius of the South,’ she also resurrected interest in Hurston’s life and work with a dedicated publication she titled ‘In Search of Zora Neale Hurston.’
She searches for love across three failed marriages
Hurston’s interest in love was very clear, and she proved that in several of her writings about the subject, including in her beak work ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God.’
The love stories in her books aside, Hurston searched for love herself, and this led her into a rigorous marital adventure – with the author completing three marriages to three different men and all ending in divorce.
Not many details exist about her marriages, but judging by the short span, these marriages stayed for, it is possible that the reason for the author’s splits is related to the same reason as Janie’s, her book character in ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God.’
She and Langston Hughes went from being friends to enemies
Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes were two fundamental players who were behind the success of the Harlem Renaissance. Both writers shared a similar objective in their works – as they sought to unite African American people, promote equality among black and white races, and kick against racialism and other forms of discrimination.
However, the two fell out due to conflicts of ideas when they collaborated on a play called ‘Mule Bone.’ Both became too personal and emotionally over-attached to the play – consequently working separately and getting a copyright each to their own. The conflict was then settled by a court, but their friendship would stay ruined forever.
When did Hurston Move to Harlem?
Hurston moved to Harlem around the early 1920s – a few years after the city started gaining momentum as an all-black town offering will and freedom for artistic expression.
How did Zora Neale Hurston die?
In the latter years of her life, penniless and without friends, home, and literary relevance, Zora Neale Hurston resigned to a welfare home in St. Lucie County. She died from a heart complication in 1960.
Who discovered the lost tomb of Zora Neale Hurston?
A young, black female writer in the person of Alice Walker is credited with having discovered the lost, unmarked grave of Zora Neale Hurston and marked them herself and placed a tombstone on it. Walker also helped revive interest in Hurston’s works after she published an article eulogizing the black American author.
Why did Zora Neale Hurston have a falling out with Langston Hughes?
Both Hurston and Hughes were shining stars and leaders of the Harlem Renaissance but had an irreconcilable conflict while they were working together on the play ‘Mule Bone’ for the sake of jealousy and intellectual pride.