Zora Neale Hurston

Richelle Lewis 4th Red


  • Born January 7, 1891, in Notasulga, Alabama (claimed to be born in 1901 in Eatonville, FL) to parents Lucy and John Hurston
  • 5th of 8 children
  • Moved to Eatonville as a young child (the 1st all-black town in the US)
  • Attended school in Eatonville until age of 13
  • Mother died in 1904, father quickly remarried & gave less attention to kids
  • Joined travelling circus at age of 16 which brought her to New York during the Harlem Renaissance
  • Went to Howard University (1921-1924) where she won a scholarship to Barnard College to study anthropology
  • Graduated from Barnard in 1928
  • attended Columbia University for her graduate studies in anthropology, also conducted field studies in folklore among African Americans
  • Collaborated with Langston Hughes (African American poet & author) on an unfinished play: Mule Bone: A Comedy of Negro Life in Three Acts
  • Published first novel, Jonah's Gourd Vine, in 1934;
  • Continued writing novels including Their Eyes Were Watching God, Tell My Horse (travel writing and anthropology based on voodoo found in Haiti), and Moses, Man of the Mountain, which established her as a major author
  • Known for her wit, irreverence, and folk writing style
  • never made much money from her work
  • Served on faculty of North Carolina Central University & on the staff of the Library of Congress
  • wrote autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road, in 1942
  • Last book was Seraph on the Suwanee in 1948
  • Died January 28, 1960 (age 69) from a stroke; buried in a segregated cemetery
  • Her work was forgotten after her death until the late 20th century when there was a revival of Hurston's work and several of her collections were published

“If you are silent about your pain, they'll kill you and say you enjoyed it.” -Zora Neale Hurston

Hurston in the Harlem Renaissance

As a leader in the Harlem Renaissance, Hurston was a revolutionary in helping protect African American rights. The Harlem Renaissance was a time of blossoming African American culture that spanned from the early 1920s through the 1930s, especially in the arts and literature. Being raised in the first all-black town in America helped her form her image of a strong African American race. Literature had a huge impact on the Harlem Renaissance, and Hurston's writing provided a needed feminine voice in a movement that was mostly dominated by men. Her intentions were not to make people pity the African Americans; she wanted to provide the vision of a strong and independent race since she didn't like the idea of black Americans being portrayed as victims of white society. This idea did not sit well with parts of Harlem and black America as a whole. However, she put others' opinions aside and used her bold voice to show how the black-dominant Harlem could foster her ideas.

Hurston in the 21st Century

If Hurston lived in the 21st century, her work would have had a longer lasting impact. After she passed away, her work faded away with her. However, in the 21st century, her work would thrive and continue to thrive after her death. People would be more accepting of her ideas; they would seem less revolutionary since most people of the 21st century are more open to new ideas. Her work would be used as ammunition against the current anti segregation movements that are, unfortunately, still taking place.

If I Were Zora Neale Hurston...

If I had the skills of Zora Neale Hurston, I would also write to promote feminism. Hurston didn't bluntly write about women's rights; she used symbolism and comparisons to subtly promote women's rights in her writing. I would use those skills the same way to promote the current feminist movement. I would travel to different places and write about female culture around the world in order to promote feminism.
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Political Cartoon

In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston wrote about a young African American women finding her voice and freeing herself from the oppression of men. In my political cartoon, a woman is removing her headwrap and letting her hair fall free. This represents the women freeing herself from the oppression of men. The headwrap, which was holding back her hair, is now removed, eliciting the freedom of her hair.


In "A Rocky Road to Posterity: The Publication of Zora Neale Hurston," Christine Daley gives her take on why Hurston's work faded into obscurity before being revitalized in the early 1970s. Due to factors in her literary life, personal life, and the decreased reception of readers to her work, according to Daley, Hurston's career turned into a tragedy. (Periodic sentence) In 1948, Hurston was falsely accused of child molestation, and Daley believe this was the beginning of the downfall of Hurston's career. After this event, Hurston's attempted works resulted in failures, and her career continued to deteriorate until her death in 1960. However, Daley also describes the revitalization of Hurston's work after her death. Explaining Hurston's career's slow rise back to familiarity, Daley describes how the republishing of her works acted like a domino effect: when one published began reprinting Hurston's work, many others soon followed. (Participial Phrase) Daley claims this is a large contributor to Hurston's works' second rise to success. She also compares Hurston's rise, fall, and rising again, to the situations of many other authors and authors in history, showing that she believes that Hurston's case is not unique.


Their Eyes Were Watching God

Hurston wrote Their Eyes Were Watching God during the Harlem Renaissance, and the content of this novel reflects that. During this time, African American culture was flourishing, and many radical ideas were fostered. Hurston always wanted to portray black Americans as strong and independent rather than victims of white society. In her novel, Janie, the main character, goes on a journey in search of the ideal partner, but instead finds that she feels constrained by the men she develops relationships with along the way. In her journey, Janie finds her voice and sense of independence and realizes she doesn't need a man in her life to be happy. This novel displays Hurston's spark of feminism in Janie's independence. This theme of women's freedom from men is the most identifiable throughout the novel. There is also segregation that takes place by both blacks and whites in the novel. This parallels her anthropological studies where she learned that racism is minutely defined by color; it is more defined by cultural force rather than a mindset.

In the 21st century, this novel would be taken in with open arms. Women would embrace it because of Janie's sense of independence from men that is embodied by the current feminist movement. The ideas that were once revolutionary when the novel was written would be considered elementary in the 21st century.

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In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston writes majority of the novel with the dialect of the American American people. This helps the reader understand the setting of the novel and picture the story in their minds. She did this in most of her writing due to her extensive travel and writing about different cultures and different locations. She also uses a lot of symbolism in her writing: one of her novels is a symbol of her parents and family life using characters to represent her family members. In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston uses Janie as a symbol for black women's rights and her suitors as the oppression that restricted women. Highlighted in pink above is an example of symbolism in Their Eyes Were Watching God. Her characters usually go through a transformation that change their mindset and beliefs, which is also shown through Janie's transformation from a girl to a woman.

Hurston vs. Hawthorne

Zora Neale Hurston and Nathaniel Hawthorne's writings have many similarities. Both authors use a plethora of symbolism in their writing. In The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne uses Hester's daughter Pearl to symbolize the prescious thing that came at a price, which was Hester's social standing. Hawthorne, however, wrote with Romanticism while Hurston write during the Harlem Renaissance, so the themes of their writing are different. Hurston's work has themes that include African American civil rights and women's rights, while Hawthorne's writing focuses more on romantic ideals such as individuality and imagination.

Works Cited

Boyd, Valerie. Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston. New York: Scribner, 2003. Print. 13 Dec. 2014

Boyd, Valerie. "Zora Neale Hurston." Zora Neale Hurston. The Estate of Zora Neale Hurston. Web. 15 April 2015.

Daley, Christine. "A Rocky Road to Posterity: The Publication of Zora Neale Hurston." Women Writers. Sept. 2000. Web. 20 April 2015.

Hutchinson, George. "Harlem Renaissance: American Literature and Art." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, 9 Feb. 2009. Web. 10 April 2015.

"Zora Neale Hurston Quotes." Zora Neale Hurston Quotes (Author of Their Eyes Were Watching God). Goodreads Inc. Web. 29 March 2015.

"Zora Neale Hurston's Trials and Tribulations Through the Harlem Renaissance." History Engine: Tools for Collaborative Education and Research. The University of Richmond, 13 Dec. 1934. Web. 17 April 2015.

"Zora Neale Hurston: American Author." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, 21 Oct. 2014. Web. 9 March 2015.