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Zora Neal Hurston

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Interior: Coin & Book with Eye
Her masterpiece novel "Their Eyes Were Watching God"

Zora Neal Hurston Concisus Genus

An author of 7 books and more than 50 articles and short stories, a playwright, anthropologist and folklorist, Zora Neal Hurston was called the “Queen of the Renaissance.” One of 8 children, she was born in 1891 and grew up in the idyllic town of Eatonville, Florida, incorporated in 1886 as the first self-governed, all-black city in America. Her mother died when Hurston was 9, when her father, a well-respected reverend and mayor, sent her away to school. By age 14, she was living on her own. Hurston was hired as a maid to a cast member of an acting troupe. The 18 months she spent with them would be among her fondest memories. With a new sense of worldliness, she left the troupe, graduated high school, and attended Howard University, where she began to write. By 1925, she caught the interest of leading figures in the Harlem Renaissance. That year she moved to New York City and entered Barnard College on scholarship as its first and only black student. Thurston, along with her friend Langston Hughes, became one of the “New Negroes,” young black intellectuals who demanded equal billing for African-American culture in American history. After receiving a B.A. from Barnard, Hurston began graduate work at Columbia University under the tutelage of Franz Boas, the foremost anthropologist in America. She continued writing, but her interest shifted to anthropology. Funded by Guggenheim fellowships, Hurston spent the next decade researching black folklore in the South, specifically voodoo, which took her from New Orleans, to Jamaica, to Haiti, resulting in her work Tell My Horse, published in 1938. Hurston’s masterpiece is her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, published in 1937. In 1948, Hurston was arrested on false charges of molestation. The case was thrown out but had a damaging effect on her spirit. In 1950 she moved back to Florida, living in poverty. She suffered a stroke in 1959 and was forced to move into a welfare home, where she died quietly in 1960.