“I have the nerve to walk my own way, however hard, in my search for reality, rather than climb upon the rattling wagon of wishful illusions.”– Letter from Zora Neale Hurston to Countee Cullen
The above quote is the first thing featured prominently on Zora Neale Hurston’s Official Website. Hurston was born in Alabama in 1891, the fifth of eight children to a former-schoolteacher mother and a carpenter-preacher father. On a warm, cloudy, and windy day in 1937 Haiti — 46 years after being born — she penned the masterpiece, Their Eyes Were Watching God, after working on it feverishily for seven weeks.
“Zora also had a fiery intellect, an infectious sense of humor, and “the gift,” as one friend put it, “of walking into hearts.” Zora used these talents–and dozens more–to elbow her way into the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, befriending such luminaries as poet Langston Hughes and popular singer/actress Ethel Waters. Though Hurston rarely drank, fellow writer Sterling Brown recalled, “When Zora was there, she was the party.” Another friend remembered Hurston’s apartment–furnished by donations she solicited from friends–as a spirited “open house” for artists. All this socializing didn’t keep Hurston from her work, though. She would sometimes write in her bedroom while the party went on in the living room.”–Valerie Boyd on Official Website of Zora Neale Hurston
Hurston published her autobiography, Dirt Tracks on the Road, in 1942 to much acclaim. The 57-year-old writer was featured in numerous national publications. She went on to publish one more novel in 1948, Seraph on the Suwanee. Despite becoming a well-known author, Zora never received the financial benefits of success. She died of a stroke in 1960 at the age of 69. Her neighbors in Fort Pierce, Florida took up collection for her funeral arrangements and Zora laid in an unmarked grave until 1973.
In the summer of 1973, a young writer named Alice Walker (author of The Color Purple) traveled to Fort Pierce to pay her respects to the literary genius that had inspired her. Walker found Hurston’s gravestone in an unattended segregated cemetery. She cleaned back the overgrown vines and waist high weeds, and put a plain gray headstone bearing the words — “Zora Neale Hurston — Genius of the South”.
“Let no Negro celebrity, no matter what financial condition they might be in at death, lie in inconspicuous forgetfulness… We must assume the responsibility of their graves being known and honored.”– Letter from Zora Neale Hurston to W.E.B. DuBois – 1945
Herstun =/= Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston’s dedication to life and the written word is inspiring. She fought a world much different than the one I battle, fiercer in so many ways, and still produced some of the most groundbreaking writing in the world. Hurston wrote when there was no clear reason to write. She is the reason that I believe little black girls from the south have a chance. And not just a chance to be heard, but a chance to be the best. I will never be as good of a writer because I can never exist in the world she did, growing the way she grew. But I hope that her spirit rests in peace knowing that the combination of her pen and mind inspired more people than she could have ever imagined in 1937, writing her first masterpiece in that tiny Haitian room. May your grave and life be forever honored, Zora.
Five favorite quotes
“Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.”
“Grab the broom of anger and drive off the beast of fear.”
“I do not weep at the world, I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.”
“If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”
“No matter how far a person can go the horizon is still way beyond you.” #LifetimeStudent