Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Zora Neale Hurston: A Genius of the South

January 7, 2011 would have been Zora Neale Hurston's 120th birthday.  This author, anthropologist, and folklorist was born in Alabama and moved to Eatonville, Florida when still a small child.  Eatonville was special because it was the first "all black" town incorporated in the U. S.  Because of this Zora would grow up seeing black achievement all around her and believed in herself.  She lost her mother at 13, worked menial jobs, traveled as a maid, went to college, and eventually found herself among the luminaries of the 1920's Harlem Renaissance.  She published short stories and articles, then novels and folklore collections.  Her most famous work Their Eyes Were Watching God, was published in 1937.  It wasn't until 1942 that she received the critical acclaim she was due but she never did receive the financial rewards she deserved.  When she died after a stroke on January 28, 1960 her neighbors had to take up a collection for her funeral and she was buried without a headstone.
In 1973, a young writer named Alice Walker braved the snake-infested cemetery, waded through waist-high weeds and found Zora Neale Hurston's grave.  Walker bought a plain gray headstone that says: "Zora Neale Hurston: A Genius of the South."  There is now an Anthropology Fellowship, a Festival of Arts and Humanities, Orlando city building, and a National Museum of Fine Arts in Hurston's name.
What is really interesting to me about this story besides the history is that Hurston lived in Ft. Pierce, Florida the last years of her life and is buried there.  I use to live in the town next door and my mom still does. We never knew about Hurston's story.  The next time I travel to Florida I am going to visit Zora's grave and pay my respects to one of the most acclaimed authors of her generation.

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