Author Zora Neale Hurston was born on 7th January 1891 in Alabama but in 1894 moved with her family to Eatonville, Florida. This town in Orange County has since become the setting of many of her books and there is even a Zora! Festival of the Arts and Humanities, started in 1990 in her honour and still held even 128 years after her birth.
It is not surprising that the town of Eatonville would want to honour such an influential writer who has written four novels and had over 50 short stories, plays and essays published, the most popular being her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. Hurston conducted anthropological and ethnographic research during her time at Barnard College, research which is evident in her African-American literature, that portrays racial struggles prominent in the 20th Century American South. She also conducted research into Haitian Voodoo, participating in the ritual, rather than just observing, this personal experience was published in her book Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica.
Sadly, Hurston’s work went mostly unrecognised until 1975, 15 years after her death, when author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning epistolary novel The Color Purple, Alice Walker published ‘In Search of Zora Neale Hurston’ in an issue of Ms. Magazine.
A clear admirer of Huston’s writing, when her non-fiction book, Barracoon, was published posthumously in 2018, Alice Walker stated “Zora Neale Hurston’s genius has once again produced a Maestrapiece.” Barracoon, tells the story of Cudjo Lewis, one of the last-known survivors of the Atlantic slave trade, whom Hurston first interviewed in 1927, before spending a further three months talking through his life in detail in 1931. These memories and horrific injustices now fill the pages of Hurston’s most recently published book.
On 28th January 1960, Zora Neale Hurston sadly died of hypertensive heart disease and was buried in a grave (unmarked until 1973) at the Garden of Heavenly Rest in Fort Pierce, Florida. In her 1975 article, Walker wrote, “It was impossible for me to cry when I saw the field full of weeds where Zora is. Partly this is because I have come to know Zora through her books and she was not a teary sort of person herself; but partly too, it is because there is a point at which even grief feels absurd. And at this point, laughter gushes up to retrieve sanity.”