Zora Neale Hurston, writer, anthropologist and folklorist, was born on January 7, 1891, to a family of sharecroppers in Notasulga, Alabama. She was the fifth of eight children born to John Hurston, a former slave, and Lucy Potts, daughter of an Alabama landowner.
As a child she was bright, curious and high-spirited. Her mother encouraged all the children to be ambitious - to “jump at de sun.”
Her early schooling was interrupted by frequent moves, but she read constantly and loved to listen to folk-stories and tall tales. Many of these were later incorporated into her writings.
While working at many odd jobs, she completed high school and then attended college. At Howard University in Washington, D.C., she was encouraged to write stories. Her first published work, a short story, appeared in 1924.
Hurston then moved to New York City where she won prizes in both the short story and one-act play categories. She eventually won a fellowship at Barnard College, where she was the only African-American student.
Hurston graduated from Barnard with a degree in anthropology and spent two years in doctoral studies in anthropology and folklore at Columbia University.
For many years she did anthropological and folklore research in the South, the West Indies and Haiti. This work provided the basis for her four novels, two books of folklore, an autobiography, numerous short stories, and several essays, articles and plays.
Despite early success as a writer, Hurston died in poverty and obscurity in 1960. She was buried in an unmarked grave, and would have been forgotten had not Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, helped revive her writings.
Her best-known work is the novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God.
Hurston’s writings are now taught in English and African American Studies departments across the country. All of her published works are in print today.
A new gravestone, placed on her long-unmarked grave, includes the following inscription: “Zora Neale Hurston, ‘A Genius of the South,’ Novelist, Folklorist, Anthropologist.”