GXB17057 Zora Neale Hurston by Tom McNeely © Wind River Studios

Although Zora Neale Hurston claimed in her autobiography to have been born on January 7, 1901, in Eatonville, Florida, many biographers insist she was actually born in 1891 in Notasulga, Alabama. After growing up in Eatonville (the nation’s first incorporated all-black city), Hurston joined a traveling theatrical company around 1919 and eventually found herself in New York City during the Harlem Renaissance. She attended Howard University (where she published her first story in the school literary magazine) from 1921 to 1924, then studied at Barnard College under the acclaimed anthropologist Franz Boas. Graduating in 1928, she conducted field studies in folklore among African Americans in the rural South. In 1930, she collaborated with Langston Hughes on a play titled Mule Bone: A Comedy of Negro Life in Three Acts (which went unpublished until 1991). Her first novel, Jonah’s Gourd Vine (1934), was lauded for its realistic and unsentimental portrayal of African American life. Her subsequent works — including her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God — had a powerful influence on modern black writers such as Alice Walker, Toni Morrison and Ralph Ellison. Hurston published her highly regarded autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road, in 1942.

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