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Women's History from the Helaine Victoria Press Collection

Zora Neale Hurston

photo of Hurston with notebook in hand

  Novelist, Folklorist, 
Anthropologist & Adventurer  
She once claimed she was arrested 
for crossing against a red light, but 
escaped punishment by exclaiming that 
"I had seen white folks pass on green & 
therefore assumed the red light was for me." 

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Zora Neale Hurston (1901?-1960) grew up in Eatonville, FL, surrounded by the African-American culture of that self-governing, all-Black town. She spent much of her life seeking a literary form that could blend her experience in the rural Black south, her anthropological studies at Barnard and the artistic revolt of the Harlem Renaissance. One of her novels, Their Eyes Were Watching God, brought to perfection the creative artist and the folklorist. Hurston's adventurous spirit led her to Haiti to study hoodoo, to Honduras to seek a lost civilization and from Florida to New York on a 1,500-mile houseboat voyage; and it made her a central figure in the Harlem Renaissance. Still writing and with her visions unfulfilled, Hurston had to send an unsolicited manuscript to a publisher in 1959, even though she was the most published Black woman writer in the US. "I shall wrassle me up a future or die trying," she said. Hurston died in poverty and obscurity in a Florida state nursing home. She left a wealth of material on the Black folk community, and the recent feminist revival of interest in her life and work has brought many of her writings back into print.

© 1980 Helaine Victoria Press, Inc. A nonprofit educational organization.
Photo courtesy of Women s History Collection, Division of Political History, Smithsonian Institution.

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