Zora Neale Hurston was a phenomenal woman. At the height of her success she was known as the “Queen of the Harlem Renaissance.” She came to overcome obstacles that were placed in front of her. Hurston rose from poverty to fame and lost it all at the time of her death. Zora had an unusual life; she was a child that was forced to grow up to fast. But despite Zora Neale Hurston’s unsettled life, she managed to surmount every obstacle to become one of the most profound authors of the century.
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Zora Neale Hurston was born January 7, 1891 in Eatonville, Florida, the fifth of eight children to Reverend John Hurston and Lucy Potts Hurston. Zora was extraordinary person. When her mother died she was able to stay strong. Her father, didn’t have enough love in his heart to hold on to his daughter, she was casted out of the house by her estranged father; in addition, to being neglected Hurston, dealt with the periodic moving, against society expectations Hurston survived her harsh childhood. At the age of thirteen, Zora Neal Hurston’s life came to a halt. The woman who she would look to for understanding, support, protection and encouragement, her mother, died. From that point she had no direction in her life.
She started writing just to keep herself from emotional and physical loneness. Hurston was devastated by the death of her mother (Howard 3). After the death of Zora’s mother, Hurston was sent to Jacksonville to go to school. Two months after school started Zora received news that her father had remarried. Zora’s father was never close to her, nevertheless she would come to respect and admire him. In her eyes, Hurston saw her father as a remarkable man who had beaten tough odds to make something of himself. Zora was never to return home from school; unfortunately she didn’t have a choice, since the school would not adopt her, as her father wanted them to. “Without Lucy Hurston to spur him on, he seemed content with what he had already accomplished, not only unwilling to assume new responsibilities but eager to lighten the load” (Witcover 35). With the little interest that the new Ms. Hurston took in the ambition of her husband or his children Zora Neale Hurston left home never to return. Zora found herself being passed from relative to relative. For the first time in her life she learned what poverty was like, how people “could be slave ships in shoes” (Hemenway 17). The constant relocation prompted Zora to go to work. Most of the jobs Hurston landed as maids and waitresses didn’t last long, due to her independent attitude.
Hurston spent the next five years wandering from one job to another, living from hand to mouth, never able to afford new clothes or, even worse, books. Hurston, finally found a break when she became a wardrobe girl in the Gilbert and Sullivan theatrical troop. For eighteen months, she traveled with them feeling like a part of their family. With the assistance of one of the actresses, Zora entered Morgan Academy in Baltimore, MD (The high school division of what is now Morgan State University) in the fall of 1917(Howard 5). For the first time in her life, Zora Neale Hurston found a sense of accomplishment. Not only did she get her high school diploma, but she also went to college. During a time of racial oppression and Americans returning from World War I she managed to maintain various jobs to pay for her education. Morgan Academy was just the beginning of her extensive education. Howard University and Barnard College are where she obtained her degrees. In the fall of 1919, Zora Neale Hurston became a freshman at Howard University. Hurston studied intermittently at Howard for the next five years; the institution she would proudly call “The capstone of the Negro education in the world.” Hurston enjoyed college life even though she was a decade older than other freshmen. With the assistance of college professors Georgia Douglas Johnson and Alain Locke, Zora began to write short stories.
These stories brought her to the attention of Charles Spurgeon Johnson, the sociologist and shaker and mover of the Harlem Renaissance. He invited Hurston to New York to try her fortune as a writer. Zora wasn’t in New York long before she was met eminent black writers and sophisticated white writers, who invited her to dinner parties and nightclubs. It was at the Opportunity dinner party where Hurston met Annie Nathan Meyer who saw a brilliant mind beneath Zora’s flashy exterior (Howard 4). Zora Neale Hurston obtained a scholarship from Ms. Meyer to attend Barnard College (the woman’s division of Columbia). In the fall of 1925, Hurston began classes. Zora was Barnard first African American student. While at Barnard Hurston met Dr. Franz Boas, a professor at Columbia. Boas saw Hurston as an exceptionally gifted woman with on unusual background. He introduced Zora to anthropology. (The science of humankind and culture). In 1928, Hurston graduated from Barnard with a Bachelor Degree (Hemenway 62-63). Zora Neale Hurston was a remarkable, widely published black woman of her day—the author of more than fifty articles and short stories as well as four novels, two folklore, an autobiography and some plays. She is well known for her greatest book Their Eyes Were Watching God. Zora started writing short stories when she was in college.
By the time of her death, she had written numerous of stories and articles in a variety of magazines, newspapers, and college papers. She wanted to tell stories about men and women, about love and hate misunderstandings, about marriage and life and life’s possibilities, about selfhood and ultimately nationhood (Howard 6). Between 1934 and 1948 Zora Neale Hurston published seven books. Two Folklore Mules and Men and Tell my Horse, four novels Jonah’s Gourd Vine, Moses, Man, of the Mountain, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Seraph on the Suwanee, Dust Tracks on a Road was her autobiography (Witcover 114). Of all the books that were written by Zora Neale Hurston Their Eyes Were Watching God was by far the most famous of her masterpieces. Today it stands as one of the most important pieces of fiction writing by a black woman. Zora was eccentric; she walks brightly among us today as a heroin (Howard 98-99). Zora Neale Hurston was an outstanding woman. Although she had to struggle, Hurston was a hard working young lady that was determined to make it in life. Zora was able to finished high school and attend college. Zora also became a famous writer who wrote and published many plays and books throughout her career. Zora gained fame and lost it all at the time of her death. She was a remarkable woman who will never be forgotten.