When I was a student at UC Davis, I took a course on American Literature. This was the first time I was introduced to Their Eyes Were Watching God, a book written by Zora Neale Hurston which was published in 1937. Hurston’s literary impact is enormous. In honor of Black History Month, I am featuring her because she has had impact on me and many others. Hurston was born in Alabama in 1891 as the fifth of eight children and Hurston grew up in Florida. Her father was mayor of the town that she grew up in, Eatonville, which was one of the first all-Black towns in the United States. Later, her father served as minister to the town’s largest church. She was formally educated and she attended Howard University, Barnard College, and Columbia University. She was a central figure of the Harlem Renaissance and she wrote about contemporary issues in the Black community. Hurston often used Eatonville as a setting for her stories.
Hurston’s writings reflect a deeply anthropological lens and this is not by chance. She was educated with this lens and one of her main goals was to prove similarities between ethnicities. In 1920, she was one of the first initiates to Zeta Phi Beta, a sorority for all Black women. Hurston was married three times. Her first husband in 1927, a jazz musician, Herbert Sheen, who later became a physician. Their marriage ended in 1931. In 1939, she married Albert Price, but their marriage ended after a few months. In 1944, she married James Howell Pitts. Again, this marriage also lasted less than a year. Hurston has no children and she traveled extensively in the Caribbean and was immersed in local practices – a true anthropologist. Much of her work’s focus was around preserving cultural practices and she was also a documentary filmmaker. Hurston’s legacy lives on to this day.