This Writer Produced Her Masterpiece During the Harlem Renaissance

Who: Zora Neale Hurston, world-renowned author, folklorist, and anthropologist known for her significant contributions to American literature; January 7, 1891–January 28, 1960

Why She Dazzles: Zora published countless stories about racial struggles, African-American folklore, and works documenting Haitian voodoo, despite being at 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 fellowship to travel to Haiti. 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 was 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 1973 and published the article "Looking for Zora” that global interest in Zora’s work was sparked.

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 named 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 in 2018.

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.”

What the Ladies Rocked Then: Androgynous silhouettes liberated a woman’s ability to move, and geometry was emphasized with contrasts of color. Small, brilliant-cut diamonds were exchanged for larger ones, whether real or fake, to highlight their bling factor.

How You Can Rock It Now: Crystal can be used alongside diamonds to heighten the diamond’s brightness. Clear, carved, and frosted crystals make the diamond pop.

Where She Would Instagram: Harlem. Zora moved to New York City in the 1920s and became a fixture of the Harlem Renaissance, befriending other literary stars of the time including Langston Hughes (until their dramatic split). She co-founded FIRE!!, a thought-provoking literary magazine that explored topics like sexuality, interracial relationships, jazz and blues, and more to enlighten the movers and shakers of the era.

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Zora Neale Hurston: Beautiful. Bold. Brilliant.