Friday, January 07, 2011

Remembering... Zora Neale Hurston

A woman considered among the brightest lights of the Harlem Renaissance had almost been entirely extinguished by the time of her death in 1960; in fact, the life and great works of Zora Neale Hurston might never have been revived at all had it not been for an even greater renaissance throughout the 1960s and 1970s - the twin awakenings of Women's and Black Studies which have since added much-needed melanin and estrogen to the all-too pale, male-dominated world of letters.

PhotobucketIt is apt that a woman whose work involved folklore engulfed her own life in so many myths of her own; today, we can only be reasonably certain that Hurston was born on this day in 1891, in Notasulga, Alabama, and as a child moved to the first all-black town in the United States, at Eatonville, Florida. Orphaned by the age of 13, Hurston graduated from Morgan Academy in 1918, which may have been about the time she started playing fast and loose with her own chronology...

Though acclaimed early on as a novelist, Hurston was trained as an anthropologist, receiving her degree from Barnard College and later working with Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead; as moving as her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God is, her study of voodoo from the same year, Tell My Horse, is just as revealing, although unlike its fictional counterpart, it isn't likely to be made into a Halle Berry movie by Oprah Winfrey with a screenplay by Suzan-Lori Parks. Is all I'm sayin'...*

It is to Alice Walker that credit for the Hurston Renaissance must go, as much as to the timeless vividity of Hurston's own writing; Walker's 1975 article for Ms. Magazine entitled In Search of Zora Neale Hurston had epic repercussions. Hurston had been buried in an unmarked grave; now her home in Fort Pierce, Florida, is a National Historic Landmark.

*Both of these books, plus the 1934 novel Jonah's Gourd Vine are to be found in the collection of the Pop Culture Institute.

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