Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston

Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.

“Zora Neale Hurston (born January 7, 1891) spent her early adulthood studying at various universities and collecting folklore from the South, the Caribbean, and Latin America. She published her findings in  Mules and Men (free ebook). She was a fixture of the Harlem Renaissance, rubbing shoulders with many of its famous writers.  In 1937, she published her masterwork of fiction, Their Eyes Were Watching God (free audio book).

Writer, anthropologist, folklorist. Born January 7, 1891 in Notasulga, Alabama. She studied at Howard University (1923–4), Barnard College (1928 BA), and did graduate work at Columbia University. She spent much of her life collecting folklore of the South (1927–31, 1938–9) and of other places such as Haiti (1937–8), Bermuda (1937–8), and Honduras (1946–8), publishing her findings in works including Mules and Men (1935).” Read more at Biography.com.

Zora’s stories brought her popularity, fame, and criticism because of her deceptions of African American life in Florida. Her stories were criticized  because critics claimed that her writing was full of stereotypes and was written in a way to please her white sponsors (reaffirming White supremacy and Black inferiority). Hurston’s supporters believed her writing was an authentic depiction of rural dialect. Hurston’s supporters also pointed to the fact that not only was Zora Neale Hurston a writer but she was a trained anthropologist (under Franz Boas) where she collected folklore tales from her work in rural Florida. This included recording the local dialect of her subjects.

One of her critics was famed the English professor and poet Darwin Turner. His criticisms were more about Hurston’s personal character instead of her work. Darwin said that Hurston was a, “quick-tempered woman, arrogant toward her peers, obsequious toward her supposed superiors, desperate for recognition and reassurance to assuage her feelings of inferiority.”  Richard Wright, author of Native Son and other acclaimed literature had an even more scathing of his review of “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” He said, “Miss Hurston can write, but her prose is cloaked in that facile sensuality that has dogged Negro expression since the days of Phillis Wheatley. Her dialogue manages to catch the psychological movements of the Negro folk-mind in their pure simplicity, but that’s as far as it goes.” He goes on to say, “The sensory sweep of her novel carries no theme, no message, no thought. In the main, her novel is not addressed to the Negro, but to a white audience whose chauvinistic tastes she knows how to satisfy. She exploits that phase of Negro life which is “quaint,” the phase which evokes a piteous smile on the lips of the “superior” race.”

These criticisms were fair however we as readers have to remember to look at the pieces within the context of the time. African Americans were dealing with stereotypical depictions by white writers who wanted to portray African Americans in a negative light (see Birth of a Nation, 1915) and African American’s were living in a world in which the government endorsed segregation. Also African American artists who were popular at the time belonged to a small but competitive club for acclaim and sponsors. This club was largely male.

I would like to introduce to you one of my favorite stories “John Redding Goes to Sea.” “John Redding Goes to Sea” is the familiar tale of an overbearing but mother who refuses to allow her son, through guilt, to leave home to pursue his dreams to travel the world Enjoy.

For more information go to:
The Zora Neale Hurston Plays at the Library of Congress

Jump at The Sun

Documentary: The Life and Times of Zora Neale Hurston

For part 2-5 click here.

Their Eyes Were Watching God (Full movie)