Zora Neale Hurston: Facts & Accomplishments

Instructor: J.R. Hudspeth

Jackie has taught college English and Critical Thinking and has a Master's degree in English Rhetoric and Composition

Zora Neale Hurston is one of the great American writers and was a leading force in the Harlem Renaissance movement of the early twentieth century, which brought a number of black American writers, musicians, and artists to the forefront of American culture. Read on for a few important facts about Hurston and about some of the important things that Hurston accomplished in her career!

Birth and Early Life

Zora Neale Hurston was born in 1891 in Alabama, where she attended school until the age of thirteen.

Hurston's mother died early in Hurston's teenage years, and Hurston left home to take a job with an acting troupe.

Eventually, Hurston ended up in Washington, DC. While there, she attended Howard University, a historically black-attended college. Hurston studied anthropology, which is a field of study about human beings and how they live, interact, and form societies.

Hurston continued further studies in anthropology at other schools including Barnard College, a women's college in New York, and Columbia, another university in New York.

The Harlem Renaissance

Hurston's college studies took her to New York, where she began to write plays and novels. In those times, writers were supported by patrons, or people who funded the artists' work. A good modern example of patronage would be the site Patreon, which allows many users to fund the work of an artist that they like. However, in these times, most patrons were wealthy individuals. Hurston's major patron was a woman named Charlotte Mason.

Zora Neale Hurston during the height of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s.

Work with Langston Hughes

Hurston worked on a play with Langston Hughes titled Mule-Bone: A Comedy of Negro Life. Hughes is another of the greatest artists to come from the Harlem Renaissance, but Hurston's collaboration with him did not come to fruition. Though the play was finished, Hurston severed her partnership with Hughes and both authors disagreed over who should get credit for writing the play, which led to the end of their friendship. The play was eventually performed, but not until 1991.

Hurston's Finest Work

Hurston then began to write novels and collect stories. Her work as an anthropologist led her on a trip to Florida to collect the folk stories, cultural stories told out loud and by memory, of black Americans who lived there so that she could publish them, which she did in a collection titled Mules and Men.

Hurston also wrote a number of critically-acclaimed novels including Jonah's Gourd Vine, Seraph on the Suwanee, and her most famous novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, which told the story of Janie Crawford over twenty years and charted Janie's growth toward becoming a loving, independent, and self-confident human being. This novel is often taught in classrooms today and was adapted into a movie starring Halle Berry as Janie.

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