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BACKGROUND INFORMATION - BIOGRAPHY
Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston was born in 1891, in Eatonville, Florida, the fifth child of a preacher and a schoolteacher. Throughout her childhood and into her thirties, she attended a variety of schools, including Howard and Barnard, where she studied anthropology. During her college years, she also published her first short stories, often in Opportunity magazine. By 1926, she had two published plays. She had also begun to collect folkloric material in Harlem and her home state of Florida to use in her writing. In 1926 she also started a magazine, Fire!, which was only briefly published. It was one of her several collaborations with Langston Hughes and Wallace Thurman. In 1927, she married, but was divorced three years later.
In the early thirties, Hurston wrote and helped produce a number of theatrical pieces, one of which resulted in her break with Langston Hughes. She was awarded her first of two Guggenheim Fellowships in 1936. While in Haiti working on her Guggenheim project, Hurston wrote Their Eyes Were Watching God in seven weeks. Published in 1937, it is the first novel by an African-American woman that explores the interior psyche of a woman who successfully "creates" her own persona. As Hurston's most famous novel, it has attracted an enormous amount of attention, especially in the last twenty years.
In 1939, Hurston received her first honorary doctorate, married for the second time, and published her second novel, Moses, Man of the Mountain. During the next three years, she published a number of new short stories, worked as a consultant for Paramount Pictures, received the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in Race Relations for her autobiography (Dust Tracks on the Road), and appeared on the cover of the Saturday Review. In 1943, Hurston divorced her second husband. During the mid-forties, she published some of her most sharply critical views on race relations, often to wide readership, in such magazines as Negro Digest and American Mercury. She traveled to Honduras in 1947 and barely survived a false accusation of child-molestation in 1948. By 1950, she was struggling financially and working as a maid in Rivo Island, Florida. The fifties saw a continuation of her publications on race relations and politics; but her financial affairs still suffered. To supplement her literary income, she worked as a librarian and a substitute teacher. In 1959 she suffered a stroke, from which she never recovered. In January 1960, she died in a welfare home in Fort Pierce and was buried in an unmarked grave.
The intelligence and distinction of Zora Neale Hurston is unmistakable and remarkable, but her life was not an easy one. Although a hard working and forward-looking writer, her views were not always appreciated and her writing was not financially rewarding. She often had to make her living in typically low-paying minority/female job, such as a waitress, domestic, or manicurist. Further, she had to face resistance from within her own Harlem Renaissance community. Some of her views of African-American life, including some portrayed in Their Eyes Were Watching God, did not please the male writers, who were steeped in writing protest literature. Richard Wright lambasted her publicly for not writing a more "realist" race story.