Celebrating Zora Neale Hurston. 5 Facts on Her 125th Birthday.

Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston (January 7, 1891 – January 28, 1960) was a novelist, journalist, and cultural anthropologist. Decades after her death, generations of young people were first introduced to her work through her 1937 seminal novel Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Throughout her life, Hurston was committed to furthering her education and sharing her findings with her community. Her thirst for knowledge took her on a series of journeys where she uncovered aspects of black Diaspora cultures not only in the United States, but in Latin America in the Caribbean as well. Here are 5 interesting facts about Zora Neale Hurston.

Zora Neale Hurston started her formal education with a little lie.

In 1917, Hurston began attending attending Morgan College, the high school division of Morgan State University. In order to qualify for a free education, Hurston, 26 at the time, shaved off ten years from her age, claiming that she was actually born in 1901. Her deception worked out and she graduated high school in 1918.

That same year she began studies at Howard University, where she became one of the earliest members of the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority. She also co-founded The Hilltop, the university’s student newspaper. Hurston left Howard in 1924, and went on to study at Columbia and Barnard after being offered a scholarship by Barnard trustee Annie Nathan Meyer.

Jamaica and Haiti

Zora Neale Hurston traveled to Jamaica and Haiti in 1936 and 1937 for the purposes of anthropological research. Her travel was funded with a grant from Guggenheim Foundation. She drew from her research to write Tell My Horse, a firsthand account of her experiences in the Caribbean nations as an initiate of voodoo practices. She also shared intimate details about the ceremonies and customs that she witnessed.

Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica

Their Eyes Were Watching God Was Actually Heavily Criticized For Its Portrayal of African Americans.

While the novel is Hurston’s best known work, many of her contemporaries felt that work depicted African Americans as simple minded, citing the dialects that they spoke.

Author Richard Wright famously wrote in a review of the Their Eyes Were Watching God,

The sensory sweep of her novel carries no theme, no message, no thought. In the main, her novel is not addressed to the Negro, but to a white audience whose chauvinistic tastes she knows how to satisfy. She exploits that phase of Negro life which is “quaint,” the phase which evokes a piteous smile on the lips of the “superior” race.

Zora Neale Hurston was a Fashionista.

This one should come as no surprise. Pictures of Hurston usually show her wearing chic hats, furs, and jewelry. Her style was sophisticated and timeless.

Zora Neale Hurston

Alice Walker’s Posthumous Honor.

In 1973, over a decade after her death, activist and writer Alice Walker sought out Zora Neale Hurston’s grave in Fort Pierce, St. Lucie County, Florida. She planted a grave marker calling Hurston “A Genius of the South.”

The Life and Times of Zora Neale Hurston.

Filmmaker and journalist Aron Myers created this extensive National Radio Documentary about Hurston and her many works. It was narrated by actress Vanessa Williams.