As a very small girl Zora began to show interest in reading and writing poetry. She read anything that she could find. Her father forbade her to read novels, he considered them the devil's work. At the age of eight Zora declared that she was going to be a poet like Longfellow. Her father became furious and forbade her to become a Poet, but to become a Missionary. Her mother Lucy encouraged her to continue to read and write poems. Her mother called her "mama's child".
At the age of nine when Zora's mother died, Zora's world changed. Zora father remarried and Zora, her brother and sister were sent off to a boarding school. After a year Zora father stop paying Zora's school fee and asked the school to adopt Zora. Zora and her siblings were unwanted by their stepmother and father and were sent to live with relatives and friends. Zora lived in a series of homes. During this time Zora had to work and it depressed her when she saw other children going to school. Still wandering, Zora went to live with her older brother, but finally after Zora rocky relationship with her family she left Etonville in 1917, with a suitcase filled with newspaper, to keep her comb, brush and toothbrush from rattling to attend Morgan Academy in Baltimore and complete high school. She then went on to Howard Prep School and Howard University, in Washington and earned her associate degree. Zora nicknamed Howard University "Negro Harvard".
Between 1910 and 1920 Southern blacks poured into Harlem, in manhattan, and began doubling the population of New York. Harlem became a cultural Magnet that attracted unknown musicians, artists, poets and novelists; here they were free to develop their abilities. Educated and talented they pour into Harlem. Zora became part of the movement. In May 1925 Zora found herself at an award dinner in Manhattan where 15 out of 732 black contestants received an award. Zora received an award for coming second place for her play, "Color Struck".
While in New York Zora became famous for her part in the Harlem Renaissance's Literati. She became well known not only for her writing, but also for her outspokenness, her distinct way of dressing and her refusal to be ashamed of her culture. Zora became close friends with Langston Hughes, another great writer. They were both funded by the same patron, Charlotte Mason, a wealthy white woman. Zora was very adept in her quest for funds and was criticized by many. In 1930 Zora, Langston and their typist collaborated on a play. Zora wrote the play and Hughes created the plot. Zora was unwilling to share the writing credit and sent the copyright with only her name on it. Langston threatened to sue.
Devastated Langston ended his friendship with Zora Neale and Charlotte Mason. Years later Hughes retaliated in his autobiography by calling Zora the "Perfect Darkie" for her white friends. Zora did not mention Langston in her autobiography, the break up of their friendship was final and to some people it marked the end of Harlem renaissance.
Zora was a pioneer in the study of African-American folklore writings; she traveled back to Florida in 1927, to New Orleans in 1928 and to the Caribbean later on. In New Orleans she studied voodoo(folklore). In New Orleans she recognized voodoo as a system of faith no stranger than any other religion, but in Haiti and Jamaica, she observed voodoo as a terrifying experience. In 1935 Zora published "Mules and Men", it demonstrated her unique methods of collecting folklore.
Zora wrote her masterpiece "Their Eyes Are Watching God", in Haiti, it was published in 1937. It carried a message about the misery of black life in America. Their eyes evolved around a black woman in search of happiness. Zora admits to putting all the tenderness of her passion she felt for a man of West Indian descent into the book, and that the character Tea Cake possessed the good looks, physical strength and capacity to love, like the man she loved. Zora also revealed through Jamie, the female character in the book, the jealousy and love she felt for her true love.
Richard Wright , Author of "Black Boy", disliked Zora portrayal of blacks as "common folks working beanfields". He considered writing a political tool to describe the horrors of racism. He therefore thought the story of "Their Eyes are watching God, the story of Jamie Crawford a wasted one. He said the characters were too simple. In 1942 critics blasted Zora again, this time for her autobiography, "Dust Tracks On A Road". Harold Peece called her autobiography "The tragedy of a gifted mind."
Zora career reached it peak in the thirties. She published five books including "Moses, Man Of The Mountain", a black version of the biblical story of Moses.
During the late 1950's Zora began to publish less and less, she was rejected frequently and had to find other ways to make a living, including being a maid for a while. She continued to write, however her finances and health failed. Zora lived her last years in obscurity. In 1959 she suffered a stroke and had to enter into St. Lucie County Welfare Home. She died penniless January 28. 1960 and was buried in an unmarked grave in a segregated cemetery in Florida.
In 1973, writer Alice Walker discovered her grave and put a gravemarker on the site. Alice published an essay "In Search Of Zora Neale Hurston", in Ms. Magazine in March 1975 and resurrected the literacy world's interest in Zora.
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Fall Semester 1998. Last modified: 7 December 1998.