We’ve been without author and anthropologist, Zora Neale Hurston, for 55 years. She left an indelible mark when she died in 1960. Unfortunately, Hurston died destitute in Fort Pierce, Florida, but on her 124 birthday, Clutch Magazine honors her as a shero. Here are a few reasons why Hurston is more-than-worthy of this title.
Zora Neale Hurston was destined to be one of the greatest writing influences to ever place pen to paper, but her rise to prominence was filled with crippling challenges. Hurston’s family relocated to Florida when she was three, according to a digital archive dedicated to her at the University of Central Florida. Eatonville is considered one of the first Black-established communities in the United States and Hurston often described it as “a utopia where black Americans could live independent of the prejudices of white society.”
Even in this picture-perfect world, Hurston’s mother’s death when she was 13 devastated her. Rather than finishing her education, Hurston was sent to care for her brother’s children. She then served as a house domestic for most of her teenage years.
These difficult circumstances couldn’t keep Hurston from the greatness that awaited her.
Despite her work as a domestic, Hurston was determined to attain a higher education. While earning an Associates’ Degree from Howard University, Hurston co-founded their esteemed newspaper The Hilltop and pledged Zeta Phi Beta Sorority. If that weren’t enough, Hurston transferred to Barnard College to pursue a Bachelors of Arts in anthropology. There, she was the sole African-American student, but that didn’t stop her from shining.
While at Barnard, she conducted ethnographic research with Franz Boas, who is often referred to as the “Father of American Anthropology,” according to Columbia University. A bachelors’ degree wasn’t the end of Hurston’s educational pursuit. She spent two years studying anthropology at Columbia University and was awarded the Guggenheim Foundation fellowship, which allowed her to travel to Jamaica and Haiti for anthropological research. Hurston also traveled to Honduras and decided to live there from 1947 to 1948.
Numerous writers like Alice Walker, Langston Hughes, and Toni Morrison, capture elements of African-American culture in their work. Hurston is a foremother in this elite list of extraordinary Black writers and storytellers. Her works include Their Eyes Were Watching God, Jonah’s Gourd Vine, and Moses, Man of the Mountain. In these books and her anthropological work, Zora unapologetically covers the range of human experience, including love, vengeance, and death. Even now, Hurston serves as our personal griot, as her work continues to be read around the world.
Hurston was one fashionable Harlem Renaissance woman. She donned pearl necklaces, chic Peter Pan hats, belted shirts, and even ruffled button-ups under sophisticated vests. Her fashion sense is timeless. Her wardrobe staples seem to appear on the heads and ears of some of the chicest women of our generation including First Lady Michelle Obama. Plus, in almost all of her photos, Hurston appears to be flashing the greatest accessory of all – her smile.
Festival Time, Anybody
How many women can add a festival named and celebrated in their honor to their accomplishments? Hurston can. The Zora Neale Hurston Festival features prominent musical figures and writers celebrating her work and life. It is held each January in Eatonville.
Still not convinced? Ask Alice Walker. She went on a quest to discover Hurston’s unmarked grave and reintroduce her genius to the world. Hurston’s legacy lives in on in all of our favorite writers, so she is never too far from our hearts and minds.