The Death and Rebirth of Zora Neale Hurston
In this unit on the African American experience in colonial and pre-Civil War America, several ‘heroes’ have both appeared and been discussed in class while others still remain to be explored in more detail which are:Frances Harper,Harriet Wilson,Jack Johnson,George Herriman,Eubie Blake,Arthur W. Mitchel,…etc. But the one heroine that I really love and I’m going to talk about that person in my project is Zora Neale Hurston. Zora Neale Hurston was born in January 7 1891. She was a talented American author, anthropologist, and filmmaker. One of her four most popular novels back then was “Their Eyes Were Watching God’. It was published in 1937. In 1938, she published her research on Haitian Vodou by a book named:”Tell My Horse-Voodoo And Life in Haitian And Jamaica’. This book is based on her personal experiences in Haiti and Jamaica as an initiate rather than just an observer during her visits in the 1930s and it’s about Voodoo practices,rituals,and beliefs. It is a travelogue into a dark,mystical world that offers a vividly authentic picture of ceremonies,customers,and superstitions. And she described racial struggles in the early 20th century American South. Hurston also wrote a lot of short stories, essays and even plays.
Zora Neale Hurston was born in Notasulga, Alabama where her father grew up and her paternal grandfather was the preacher of a Baptist church. She was the fifth child in her family out of eight children. Four of her grandparents (on both of her parents’ sides) were born into slavery. Her father was a carpenter but before that he was a Baptist preacher and sharecropper. Her mom was a teacher and she taught students at school. Then in 1894 when she was three years old, she moved to Eatonville, Florida with her family. In 1887, it was one of the first all-black towns incorporated in the United States. She sometimes claimed it was her birthplace since her family moved there when she was too young. A few years later, her father was elected as mayor of the town in 1897. In 1902 he was called to serve as minister of its largest church, Macedonia Missionary Baptist. As Hurston grew up to an adult usually used Eatonville as a setting of her story which was a place where African Americans could live as they desired, independent of white society. In 1901, some northern school teachers had a visit to where Hurston lived and they gave her some books that helped her opened her mind to literature. Later, she described this personal literary awakening as a kind of ‘birth’. In her 1928 essay ‘How It Feels To Be Colored Me’, she described the experience of growing up in Eatonville for the rest of her childhood. Hurston’s mother died in 1904, and her father subsequently married Mattie Moge in 1905. This was considered scandalous, as it was rumored that he had had sexual relations with Moge before his first wife’s death. Hurston’s father and stepmother sent her to a Baptist boarding school in Jacksonville, Florida. They eventually stopped paying her tuition and she was dismissed.
In 1916, Hurston was employed as a maid by the lead singer of the Gilbert & Sullivan theatrical company. In 1917, she resumed her formal education, attending Morgan College, the high school division of Morgan State University, a historically black college in Baltimore, Maryland. At this time, apparently to qualify for a free high-school education, the 26-year-old Hurston began claiming 1901 as her year of birth. In 1918, she graduated from the high school of Morgan State University.
Later on, she used Eatonville as the setting for most of her stories. It is now the site of the ‘Zora! Festival’, held each year in her honor. She used to be a student at Barnard College and Columbia University. There, she conducted anthropological and ethnographic research. She was really interested in African-American and Caribbean folklore, and how these contributed to the community’s identity. Hurston also wrote fiction about contemporary issues in the black community and became a central figure of the Harlem Renaissance.
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