Zora Neale Hurston

Picture of Zora Neale Hurston

Who: Zora Neale Hurston, a writer known for her significant contributions to African American literature; folklorist and anthropologist

Why She Dazzles: Zora published countless stories about racial struggles, African American folklore, and works documenting Haitian voodoo, despite being the center of controversy during different periods of her life. She was a fixture of the Harlem Renaissance, and wrote her masterpiece novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, in 1937 after she received a grant to travel to Haiti (psst she wrote the book in just seven weeks). Zora’s book didn’t receive acclaim until decades later, and unfortunately, she never experienced financial or personal success; she died alone, impoverished, and buried in an unmarked grave in 1960. It wasn’t until Pulitzer-Prize winning author Alice Walker (best known for The Color Purple) discovered and marked Zora’s grave in the 1970s, and published the article “Looking for Zora” which sparked global interest in Zora’s work.

Why You Need to Know Her Today: As a young anthropologist in the 1920s, Zora went to Alabama to interview an 89-year-old-man called Kossola, the last known survivor of the transatlantic slave trade. She chronicled his memories of being captured in Africa, crossing the Atlantic, and adjusting to America after the Civil War. Her first-person account is documented in Barracoon, which includes her conversations with Kossola in his own words and native language. You can finally read it because it just hit bookshelves this month.

What She Would Say—Because She Said It Then: “Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.”

Picture of cascading strands of fuchsia crystal earrings by Natasha
Fellow writer Sterling Brown recalled, “When Zora was there, she was the party.”

What She Would Wear to a Party Tonight: Zora socialized with fellow artists and often invited them into her home in Harlem. Sometimes she wrote in her room while the party went on, yet she would always sparkle for the social occasion, especially since it was the Roaring Twenties and the age of flappers and silver screen starlets.

Postcard of Haitian landscape by FictionChick
“Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.”—Zora

What She Would Send to Her Friend: A postcard with a few sentences about her travels through the Caribbean when she researched the local Voodoo practices, rituals, and beliefs. Not only was Zora there to witness the spiritual events, but she actually participated as an initiate rather than just an observer to capture the mystical world. Read some of her fascinating experiences in her book Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica.

Picture of graffiti in Harlem
The Harlem Renaissance was the most influential movement in African American literary history, and the neighborhood continues to maintain a rich history of cultural and artistic expression.

Where She Would Instagram: Harlem. Zora moved to New York City in the 1920s and became part of its art scene where she befriended other literary stars of the time including Langston Hughes. She co-founded FIRE!!, an African-American literary magazine that expressed the changing attitudes of younger African Americans, and covered issues like homosexuality, interracial relationships, and more to enlighten the movers and shakers of the era.

Tweet This: The annual Zora! Festival, in honor of Zora Neale Hurston, celebrates the author’s life and work; Eatonville, Florida’s historical significance; and the cultural contributions of African ancestry #anewlady @zorafestival

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