When Hurston arrived in New York City in 1925, the Harlem Renaissance was at its peak, and she soon became one of the writers at its center. Shortly before she entered Barnard, Hurston’s short story “Spunk” was selected for The New Negro, a landmark anthology of fiction, poetry, and essays focusing on African and African American art and literature. In 1926, a group of young black writers including Hurston, Langston Hughes, and Wallace Thurman, calling themselves the Niggerati, produced a literary magazine called Fire!! that featured many of the young artists and writers of the Harlem Renaissance.
By the mid-1930s, Hurston had published several short stories and the critically acclaimed Mules and Men (1935), a groundbreaking work of “literary anthropology” documenting African American folklore. In 1930, she also collaborated with Langston Hughes on Mule Bone: A Comedy of Negro Life in Three Acts, a play that was never finished, although it was published posthumously in 1991.
In 1937, Hurston was awarded a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship to conduct ethnographic research in Jamaica and Haiti. Tell My Horse (1938) documents her account of her fieldwork studying African rituals in Jamaica and voudon rituals in Haiti. Hurston also translated her anthropological work into the performing arts, and her folk revue, The Great Day premiered at the John Golden Theatre in New York in 1932.
Hurston’s first three novels were also published in the 1930s: Jonah’s Gourd Vine (1934); Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), written during her fieldwork in Haiti and considered her masterwork; and Moses, Man of the Mountain (1939).
In the 1940s, Hurston’s work was published in such periodicals as The American Mercury and The Saturday Evening Post. Her last published novel, Seraph on the Suwanee, notable principally for its focus on white characters, was published in 1948.
In 1954, Hurston was assigned by the Pittsburgh Courier to cover the small-town murder trial of Ruby McCollum, the prosperous black wife of the local bolita racketeer, who had killed a racist white doctor. She also contributed to Woman in the Suwanee County Jail, a book by journalist and civil rights advocate William Bradford Huie. In 2008, The Library of America selected excerpts from this work for inclusion in its two-century retrospective of American True Crime writing.
Hurston’s work slid into obscurity for decades, for a number of cultural and political reasons.
Many readers objected to the representation of African American dialect in Hurston’s novels, given the racially charged history of dialect fiction in American literature. Her stylistic choices in terms of dialogue were influenced by her academic experiences. Thinking like a folklorist, Hurston strove to represent speech patterns of the period which she documented through ethnographic research. For example, a character in Jonah’s Gourd Vine expresses herself thusly:
- “Dat’s a big ole resurrection lie, Ned. Uh slew-foot, drag-leg lie at dat, and Ah dare yuh tuh hit me too. You know Ahm uh fightin’ dawg and mah hide is worth money. Hit me if you dare! Ah’ll wash yo’ tub uh ‘gator guts and dat quick.”
Several of Hurston’s literary contemporaries criticized Hurston’s use of dialect as a caricature of African American culture rooted in a racist tradition. More recently, many critics have praised Hurston’s skillful use of idiomatic speech. In particular, a number of writers associated with the Harlem Renaissance were critical of Hurston’s later writings, on the basis that they did not agree with or further the position of the overall movement. One particular criticism came from Richard Wright in his review of Their Eyes Were Watching God:
- … 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.
During the 1930s and 1940s when her work was published, the pre-eminent African American author was Richard Wright. Unlike Hurston, Wright wrote in explicitly political terms, as someone who had become disenchanted with communism, using the struggle of African Americans for respect and economic advancement as both the setting and the motivation for his work. Other popular African American authors of the time, such as Ralph Ellison, were also aligned with Wright’s vision. Hurston’s work, which did not engage these political issues, did not fit in with this struggle.
An article, “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston”, by Alice Walker was published in the March 1975 issue of Ms. magazine. This article revived interest in her work. The reemergence of Hurston’s work coincided with the emergence of authors such as Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, and Walker herself, whose works are centered on African American experiences and include, but do not necessarily focus upon, racial struggle.
Biographies of Hurston include Zora Neale Hurston: A Literary Biography by Robert Hemenway, Wrapped in Rainbows by Valerie Boyd, and Speak So You Can Speak Again by Hurston’s niece, Lucy Anne Hurston. Her hometown of Eatonville, Florida celebrates her life in an annual festival.
Hurston’s house in Fort Pierce is a National Historic Landmark.
Fort Pierce celebrates Hurston annually through various events such as Hattitudes, birthday parties, and a several-day festival at the end of April known as Zora Fest. Her life and legacy are also celebrated every year in Eatonville, the town that inspired her, at the Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities.
provided by Wikipedia.com