dclibrary.org home black renaissance home
The Black Renaissance in Washington, DC, 1910-1937
biographies harlem renaissance books links timeline about this site

Zora Neale Hurston
Anthropologist, Writer, Folklorist
January 7, 1891 – January 28, 1960

Zora Neale Hurston was the fifth child born to Lucy Ann Potts and John Hurston on January 7, 1891 in Notasulga, Alabama. She was raised in Eatonville, Florida which was the first incorporated black town in the United States. Her father, who was pastor of the Zion Hope Baptist Church and the Macedonia Baptist Church, was also elected mayor of Eatonville in 1897 and served three terms.

Hurston spent her early childhood listening to stories the adults told on the porch of Joe Clarke’s store, which was considered the "heart and spring of the town". In 1901, two white women visiting Eatonville were so impressed with Hurston’s ability to read that they gave her books which included Grimms’ and Andersen’s fairy tales, Greek and Roman myths, Norse legends, Gulliver’s Travels, and works by Rudyard Kipling and Robert Louis Stevenson.

When Hurston’s mother died in 1904, she was sent to Jacksonville to live where her sister, Sarah was attending school. When her school bill was not paid, she scrubbed stairs on Saturdays and cleaned kitchens after school to pay her tuition. Her sister married and moved to Palmetto leaving Hurston behind. When her father did not send for her several weeks after the school term ended, the school officials pay for Hurston’s return trip home. During 1906-1911, Hurston and her younger siblings were sent to live with friends and family of her mother’s. She was not able to attend school on a regular basis because she had begun working as a domestic.

Zora Neale Hurston lived briefly in Memphis with her brother, Bob and his wife, then moved to Baltimore, Maryland where she worked as a waitress. In 1917, Hurston began attending night school. She graduated from Morgan Academy (high school division of what is now Morgan State University) in 1918 and moved to Washington, D. C.

Hurston began courses at Howard University and received an associate degree in 1920. She attended Howard intermittently until 1924 but did not receive a Bachelor’s degree. She also joined a literary club sponsored by philosophy professor Alain Locke and Montgomery Gregory, professor of English and drama. In 1921 she published her first story, "John Redding Goes to Sea" and a poem, "O Night" in Stylus, Howard University’s literary magazine. Hurston also attended a literary salon held by poet Georgia Douglas Johnson which attracted local and visiting writers such as Alain Locke, Jean Toomer, and W.E.B. DuBois, and poets Alice Dunbar Nelson and Jessie Fauset.

In 1925 Hurston moved to New York where she became a part of the African American writers artists, and musicians in Harlem who created the Harlem Renaissance. She won awards for two stories submitted to Opportunity magazine, "Black Death" and "Spunk". Alain Locke also included her short story, "Spunk" in his anthology, Core CollectionThe New Negro. She entered Barnard College in September as its only African American student. She studied anthropology with Franz Boas. Later during the summer she began meeting with Langston Hughes, poet Gwendolyn Bennett, painter Aaron Douglas, bohemian writer and artist Bruce Nugent and novelist Wallace Thurman to publish, Core CollectionFire!!, a quarterly magazine devoted to younger Negro artists. They only succeeded in producing one volume.

Hurston did much of her anthropological research on black folklore in Eatonville but in 1929 and 1930 Hurston spent some time in the Bahamas collecting folklore. She discovered a strong link between African American and African-Caribbean folklore. She used this link in her fiction where she attempted to capture the dialect and local life to which she was exposed in her childhood. In the 1930s and 1940s, Hurston was criticized by blacks because they felt her writings were offensive. Between 1934 and 1948 she published four novels, including what is now one of her most famous, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1938). Hurston was also criticized for being a critic of integration.

By the 1940's Hurston was no longer able to support herself and she returned to the South where she took a series of menial jobs. She continued to search for a publisher for several new works that she hoped to produce. She died of a stroke on January 28, 1960 in the Saint Lucie County Welfare Home in Ft. Pierce, Florida. She was buried in an unmarked grave.


Bigelow, Barbara Carlisle, editor, Contemporary Black Biography, Gale Research, Inc., Detroit, 1994.

Nagel, Carol DeKane, African American Biography, Gale Research, Inc., Detroit, 1994.

Core CollectionWall, Cheryl A. (editor). Folklore, Memoirs, and Other Writings: Zora Neale Hurston. New York: Library of America, 1995.

Selected Papers in Special Collections

The following collections include Zora Neale Hurston material:

Doris Greer
(formerly) Senior Services Outreach Manager
Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped

Titles marked Core Collection are included in the Core Collection of Harlem Renaissance Books at the Libraries.

biographies | harlem renaissance books | links | timeline
black renaissance home | dclibrary.org home

The Black Renaissance in Washington, D.C., 1920-1930s
http://www.dclibrary.org/blkren/ | last updated June 20, 2003