of Florida and the Caribbean"
Zora Neale Hurston
"There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you."
Zora Neale Hurston was an American author who wrote stories, novels, plays, folklore and an autobiography. She was born in 1903 in Eatonville, Florida, the first incorporated all-black town in the United States. When she was 16 she left her small hometown for New York City, arriving as part of a traveling theatrical troupe. Later, in the 1930s, she acquired notoriety as a member of the acclaimed Harlem Renaissance group of black writers and dramatists. She attended Barnard College, where she studied with anthropologist Franz Boaz who encouraged her to return to her native Florida to research and record African American oral traditions.
In 1927 a wealthy patron, Charlotte L. Mason of New York, gave Hurston a car, a camera and $200 a month to travel throughout the American South and record the folklife and lore of the people she encountered. She explored Florida, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, and gathered hundreds of folk tales, most still unpublished. The tales have been described as a "cultural window into how people lived."
She continued her writing and research, traveling to Jamaica, Bermuda, Honduras and Haiti. In Haiti, she studied voodoo and collected Caribbean folklore that was anthologized in her book, Tell My Horse, published in 1937. The title came from Haitian Voodoo ceremonies, where a person possessed by a spirit is ridden like a horse by the spirit. The spirit speaks through the person, the horse being ridden, and may say, "Tell my horse..." She also wrote about zombie beliefs and the idea that there was a poison that certain Bokors (Voodoo Priests) knew about that produced a deathlike state in recipients. In her autobiography Dust Tracks on a Road (1942) she wrote:
What is more, if science ever gets to the bottom of Voodoo in Haiti and Africa, it will be found that some important medical secrets, still unknown to medical science, give it its power, rather than gestures of ceremony.
Almost 50 years later her theory was scientifically confirmed.
Hurstons best-known novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), describes a beautiful Southern mulatto womans search, over 25 years and three marriages, for her true identity, and vividly captures the African-American culture and dialect of the rural South. While not overtly political, Hurston addressed issues of race and gender, communicating a strong sense of protest about segregated society. A harbinger of the women's movement, Hurston inspired and influenced such contemporary writers as Alice Walker and Toni Morrison.
Her last years were spent in poverty working as a domestic servant in Fort Pierce, where she died in 1960. Her writings were rediscovered in the 1970s by a new generation of black writers and many of her works were republished. Hurstons reputation as an author and conservator of Southern culture has achieved international recognition.
Last year Hurstons niece, doctoral candidate Lucy Hurston, received her graduate sociology degree from Ohio State University. She has signed a book contract with Doubleday to produce a work entitled Traces of Zora: Shared Family Memories of Zora Neale Hurston. Oprah Winfrey has purchased the movie rights to Their Eyes Were Watching God.
Mama exhorted her children at every opportunity to "jump at de sun." We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground.
Eatonville's Annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival