Zora Neale Hurston Biography
(1901–60), Their Eyes Were Watching God, Fire!, Mules and Men, Tell My Horse
American novelist and folklorist, born in the all-black township of Eatonville, Florida, which was to provide a basis for episodes in her best-known work, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937). Hurston left home in her teens and worked as a maid and wardrobe girl for a touring Gilbert and Sullivan troupe before becoming a part-time student at Howard University. During her twenties she published several short stories and essays, gaining the attention of leading figures of the Harlem Renaissance. Along with a number of these black writers, including Langston Hughes, she was instrumental in the founding of the short-lived literary magazine Fire!, which took the view that black writing should not be exclusively preoccupied with confronting the problem of racial oppression. In the late 1920s and 1930s she became involved in anthropological field work on the living conditions of black Americans and in 1935 published Mules and Men, an anthropological study of black American folklore. This was followed by a similar study of Caribbean folklore, Tell My Horse (1938). It is, however, as a writer of fiction that Hurston is best known, and her finest novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, a work which has grown in reputation since her death, is an important contribution to writing that asserts the independent selfhood of black women. Hurston also published Jonah's Gourd Vine (1934, her first novel); Moses, Man of the Mountain (1939), a novel which is as much concerned with the importance of Moses in black mythologies as in the Old Testament; Seraph on the Suwanee (1948), a novel about white characters; and Dust Tracks on a Road (1942), an ‘autobiography’, whose factual accuracy has been called into question. During her later years illness affected her ability to support herself and she died in comparative poverty. See also ethnicity.