Zora Neale Hurston (1891 – 1960), who was closely associated with the Harlem Renaissance, is regarded to be one of the influential writers during the 20th century. She succeeded to trounce over the several constraints placed upon the females, African Americans, and particularly African American artists by the American society during her time, and she achieved that with vengeance and because she was focused-driven and had a brilliant talent.
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Being a complicated author whose personality ranged from amiable and outrageous to delicate and incoherent, Zora was the most published African American writer during her time and possibly the most significant collector of African American legends ever.
The “greatness” of Zora as a proficient American folklorist, anthropologist, and writer is evident when he became one of the writers at the center of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s. In May 1925, her talent was recognized when she received an award for being the second among over seven hundred African American contestants for her play “Color Struck.”
In addition to being renowned for her brilliancy in writing, Zora was also famous for her frankness, her distinctive style of putting on clothes, and her not feeling embarrassed of her culture as an African American. While in New York, she became friends with Langston Hughes, another best American author, and they collaborated in writing a number of publications before parting ways in 1931.
She became a major instigator in the study of African American traditions writings and she studied voodoo (folklore) and discovered that it is a system of belief just like any other religious practice. It is important to note that the secret of Zora’s accomplishment as an anthropologist was due to her frank admiration and increasing belief in the voodoo religion and this enabled her to painstakingly document sophisticated rites that could have been beyond the reach of a majority of anthropologists.
Ishmael Reed maintains that “Zora’s greatest success is in exposing the deep beauty and appeal of a faith older than Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam, a faith that has survived in spite of its awfully bad reputation and the maltreatment of its adherents” (Zora and Gates, forward section).
The 1930s and the 1940s marked the period in which Zora made significant contributions to American literature. In 1935, she authored Mules and Men, illustrating her distinctive ways of collecting folklore, is considered as the best and the most essential work of literature of its kind. However, Zora’s masterwork and the book that is often related to her is the novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, which was published in 1937 and it tells the story of a young black woman known as Janie.
Lester says, “The novel is a heterosexual love story textured by a general feminist consciousness and a distinctly African American consciousness (4). During the 1940s, Zora’s articles were published in various periodicals such as in The American Mercury magazine and she published her last novel, Seraph on the Suwanee, in 1948.
To give credit to Zora’s unique writing style, Robert Hemenway wrote, “Hurston helped to remind the Renaissance–especially its more bourgeois members–of the richness in the racial heritage; she also added new dimensions to the interest in exotic primitivism that was one of the most ambiguous products of the age” (as cited in Holloway, 29).
In her writings, Zora exhibited a superior use of different literary elements that distinguished her from other writers of her time. Notably, her novels are full of African American English, which made some of her works to move into obscurity for some years. This was due to the ethnically inclined history of dialect fiction in American literature, especially during the second half of the twentieth century.
For example, Richard Bright criticized Zora’s depiction of African Americans as “common folks working bean fields” and Harold Peece called her autobiography, “Dust Tracks On A Road,” “The tragedy of a gifted mind”(Jack, para. 9). However, Zora managed to climb above these criticisms, and others, to become one of the greatest African American writers in the twentieth century. Worth mentioning, Zora’s writings were full of excellent use of idiomatic speech for portraying and stressing bizarre and dramatic images.
Although Zora’s writings were ignored in the 1960s and early 1970s, her unique writing style and the role she played in shaping up such writers as Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker, was revived by a publication on the March 1975 issue of Ms. magazine that paid tribute to her contribution to American literature.
In conclusion, writing four novels and more than fifty articles, Zora Neale Hurston is one of the greatest African American writers of the twentieth century. Because she was focused-driven and had a brilliant talent in writing, The “Queen of the Renaissance” withstood all odds in becoming the most published female author of the twentieth century. In addition, as an experienced folklorist and anthropologist, she successfully combined these roles and inspired several authors through the power of the pen.
Holloway, Karla F. C. The character of the word: the texts of Zora Neale Hurston. New York : Greenway Press, 1987. Print.
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Jack, Grace. “Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960).” The Department of History. The College of Staten Island of The City University of New York, 1998. Web.
Lester, Neal A. Understanding Zora Neale Hurston’s Their eyes were watching God: a student casebook to issues, sources, and historical documents. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999. Print.
Zora, Neale H. and Gates, Henry L. Tell my horse : voodoo and life in Haiti and Jamaica. New York: Harper Perennial, 2009. Print.