Zora Neal Hurston and the Harlem Renaissance

Zora Neale Hurston was born in Macon County, Alabama to Reverend John Hurston and Lucy Potts Hurston on January 7, 1891. (Champion and Nelson 162) At the age of 3, Hurston’s family moved to Eatonville, Florida, which Hurston would later include in her writings as the place she always called home and would never be “indoctrinated in inferiority and she could see the evidence of black achievement all around her. ” (Boyd 2007) At the age of 13, Zora’s childhood was changed completely when her mother passed away.

Hurston was passed around between family members and worked a “series of menial jobs” over the course of the following years. (Boyd 2007) With the help of her employer, Zora completed her high school education at Morgan Academy in Baltimore. In order to qualify for free public schooling, Hurston had change her age to 16; therefore, she falsely declared that she had been born in 1901 on the official paperwork required for the school. (Boyd 2007) From this particular moment in her life on, she would always present herself 10 years younger.

It was reported that she “had the looks to pull it off” as photographers often reveal that she was a “handsome, big-boned women with playful yet penetrating eyes, high cheekbones, and a full, graceful mouth that was never without expression. ” (Boyd 2007) In 1924 Hurston graduated from Howard University with an Associates Degree and then in 1925 enrolled in Barnard College to study anthropology under Frank Boas. It was here that Hurston found her inspiration to become a writer.

(Boyd 2007) Zora Neale Hurston was a prominent writer that emerged from the Harlem Renaissance, an African American cultural movement that took place between the 1920s and early 1930s. Harlem, the distinct neighborhood of New York, was said to be a “site of creativity and aspiration to African Americans. ” (Balshaw 2) This particular time in history marked the first time that any type of mainstream publisher took the writings of the African-American authors seriously.

The Harlem Renaissance has been described as a transformation “between the elite and the masses, a shift which had profound implications for ideas about literacy, education and children’s literature. ” (Smith 17) The writers that emerged from this time period had a variety of educational and cultural backgrounds and it is believed that this particular population of artists pressured the African-American society to “confront its own sense of segregation from the working class. ” (Smith 17)

This particular time in American history more African Americans participated in the arts than any time before and this number of individuals continued to increase over the next decade. This particular culture’s creative expansion included music, art, poetry, drama, and fiction. Many of the magazines and journals publishing the African American literary works were considered “little magazines,” such as Fire, Harlem, Stylus, Quill and Black Opals. (Singh 1) Other journals included “The Crisis and Opportunity, respectively, which encouraged young black writers.

” (Singh 1) The writing of the Harlem Renaissance is “marked by racialism” however the writers emerging during this movement reflect the spirit of this particular time in American history by their refusal to join various causes or movements. Raymond Taylor is quoted as saying, “Individuality is what we should strive for. Let each seek his own salvation. ” (Singh 1) Hurston struggled to succeed in her field of choice in a publishing industry that was dominated by white males during the mid 1920.

Her first short story was published in the Howard literary magazine The Stylus and it was titled John Redding toes to Sea. This first publication led to other short stories being published in Opportunity magazine, the most noted was titled Spunk, which caught the attention of such poets as Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen both active in the Harlem Renaissance movement. This particular attention led to her collaboration with Hughes to write the play Mule Bone; however this play was not published or performed during Hurston’s lifetime.

(Champion and Nelson 162) In 1934, Hurston produced what is said to be her finest literary work, Jonah’s Gourd Vine. This particular work of fiction took place in a small all black Florida town, that was later said to be Eatonville in disguise. The novel focused on the lives of two people who many believe were considerably similar to Hurston’s parents. (Dickinson) In 1935 she published Mules and Men, which encompassed Hurston’s personal experiences obtained while traveling throughout the South.

The author spent a number of years on this particular title, until it “was both highly expressive of the cultures she was writing about and geared toward a popular reading level. ” (Dickinson) In 1937, Hurston published what some say is her “most powerful novel,” Their Eyes Were Watching God. (Dickinson) This novel is the story of Janie Crawford, a woman who defines the constraints of her life opposite to what is expected of her in the “small town mores of Eatonville. ” (Dickinson)