Zora Neale Hurston: “I have the nerve to walk my own way, however hard, in my search for reality.”

From The Writer’s Almanac:

It’s the birthday of American writer, folklorist, and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston, best known for her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, a staple of high school and college curriculums.

Hurston was born in Notasulga, Alabama, and raised in Eatonville, Florida. Eatonville was established in 1887 and was the nation’s first incorporated African-American township. Hurston loved Eatonville, calling it, “A city of five lakes, three croquet courts, three hundred brown skins, three hundred good swimmers, plenty of guavas, two schools, and no jailhouse.” Many of her stories and novels take place there.

She got a scholarship to Barnard College, where she was the sole black student. She wrote a lot of stories, and graduated with a degree in anthropology. When she finally landed in Harlem with $1.50 in her pocket and no job, she found herself in the middle of the Harlem Renaissance, and made friends with writers like Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen.

Hurston wrote her best-known work Their Eyes Were Watching God in three weeks while on a fellowship in Haiti. She wrote an autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road, but she never made much money; the largest royalty Hurston ever received was $943.75. Her books include Mules and Men, Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti, and Moses: Man of the Mountain.

She died in Florida in 1960, penniless. Her neighbors had to take up a collection for her funeral, but they didn’t have enough money for a headstone. Her papers were ordered to be burned, but a friend saved them and gave them to the University of Florida.

She said, “I have the nerve to walk my own way, however hard, in my search for reality, rather than climb upon the rattling wagon of wishful illusions.”

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