Zora Neale Hurston is one of my favorite writers. I read in Garrison Keillor’s “A Writer’s Almanac” that today is her birthday. A reader wrote me offline to criticize my reference to Keillor’s work because many women credibly accused him of making sexual advances. I am aware of that. I think everyone has a chance to redeem themselves. In the meanwhile, I will continue to post whatever interests me.

Today is the birthday of Zora Neale Hurston (books by this author), born in Notasulga, Alabama, in 1891. She grew up in Eatonville, Florida, the first incorporated African-American community in the United States, with a population of about 125. Hurston loved it there, and would set many of her stories in Eatonville, depicting it as a sort of Utopia; she also described it in her 1928 essay, “How It Feels to Be Colored Me.” When she was 13, her mother died, and her father remarried immediately, so she was sent to a boarding school in Jacksonville, Florida. She was expelled when her father stopped paying her tuition, and she went to live with a series of family members.

She went to Howard University and co-founded the school’s newspaper, The Hilltop. She was offered a scholarship to Barnard College, where she studied anthropology, and she was the college’s only black student. She published many short stories in the 1920s and early ’30s, and her first book, Mules and Men (1935), was an anthropological study of African-American folklore. She’s best known for her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937).

A founding member of the Harlem Renaissance, Hurston died in poverty in 1960 and was buried in an unmarked grave. In 1973, novelist Alice Walker and literary scholar Charlotte Hunt found an unmarked grave in the cemetery where Hurston was buried, and marked it as hers. Alice Walker wrote about the event in her article “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston” (1975), and the article sparked a renewed interest in Hurston’s writing.

The rediscovery of Hurston continues to this day. Her book Baracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” was published posthumously in 2018. Based on interviews she conducted in 1927 with Cudjo Lewis––one of the last known slaves transported to America 50 years after the trade was outlawed––the biography became a bestseller.