Black Women Who Slayed History: Zora Neale Hurston

This Black History Month, we’re highlighting the black woman who helped make our world what it is today. Today, we honor Zora Neale Hurston.

Zora Neale Hurston is one of the top writers throughout history. No question. She published more books in her lifetime than any other black woman at the time she was active.

She was born in Eatonville, Florida, in 1891 but she changed her birth date so many times, nobody seems all that certain about it. Eatonville was an all-black town so Zora was surrounded in black success for most of her childhood. She literally didn’t even know white people other than that they passed through her town on their way to Orlando. She was sheltered from racism until her teen years.

Her mother passed away when she was a preteen and Zora was forced to start working. Her father remarried and she was passed from relative to relative until she ended up in Baltimore, where she presented herself as ten years younger to finish her high school education. She had to maintain this lie for the rest of her life and looked young enough to do it.

Zora worked a bunch of jobs that sucked, which is reminiscent of anyone’s 20s. She was a maid for the head of a theater group and a waitress at a black-owned barbershop that only served whites, just to name a few. As she began to experience racism, she wrote, “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.” She knew she was boss AF.

She graduated with her Associate’s from Howard University and then her Bachelor’s from Barnard. By then she’d published a bunch of writing, including short stories and a novel. She moved to New York City and was super involved in the Harlem Renaissance. She even collaborated with Harlem Renaissance author Langston Hughes on the play Mule Bone.

She published Their Eyes Were Watching God in 1937, which became her most prolific work. At the time, it drew a lot of criticism as a novel that lacked critique of the racial oppression that was central to the work of most black writers at the time. In “How It Feels To Be Colored Me,” she wrote, “There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all. I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood.” She just wanted to celebrate Blackness, not complain about it.

She died in poverty in 1960. Posthumously, we celebrate her writing for being incredibly feminist in its depiction of black sexuality and critique of gender roles. TEWWG only earned her about $940 in her lifetime.

Read more about her here.

And for more Black Women Who Slayed History read:

Black Women Who Slayed History: Michelle Obama
Black Women Who Slayed History: Oprah Winfrey
Black Women Who Slayed History: Billie Holiday

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