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Zora Neale Hurston

December 31, 2016

Zora Neale Hurston

 

When Zora Neale Hurston was born on January 7, 1891, African Americans, particularly African-American women, faced restrictions and unfair treatment that limited their opportunities. But Hurston was too driven, intelligent and resourceful to be held back — she took the few opportunities she had, and made others appear when needed. Today she is acclaimed for books that include Their Eyes Were Watching God and Mules and Men; however, there are other aspects of her story that are less well-known, but just as interesting. Here are seven fascinating facts about Hurston's life, struggles and accomplishments:

 

For Hurston, Age Was Just a Number
 
Zora Neale Hurston always wanted to get an education, but for years circumstances conspired against her. Among them: her father stopped paying her school bills; then when she was living with an older brother and his family, she ended up having to help out in the household instead of attending classes.
 

In 1917, Hurston decided school couldn't wait any longer. She was in Maryland, where "colored youths" age 20 and under were eligible for free public school classes. The only problem was that Hurston had been born in 1891, which made her 26. But she came up with a solution: Hurston told people that she'd been born in 1901 instead. This allowed her to attend night school, the first step on a path that would take her to Howard University, Barnard College and beyond.

 

From that moment, Hurston's altered birth date remained a part of her story — even the grave marker that Alice Walker had erected for Hurston in the 1970s incorrectly notes her birth year as 1901.

 

Hurston Was a Student of Magic
 
As an anthropologist, Hurston was interested collecting information about African-American life. One area of investigation was hoodoo (which is basically an American version of voodoo). But to learn about hoodoo Hurston needed to gain the trust of its practitioners, which meant participating in both initiation rites and magical ceremonies herself.
 

In New Orleans in 1928, Hurston took part in hoodoo rituals such as "Black Cat Bone" (which, yes, involves the bones of a black cat). She also wrote to her friend Langston Hughes that she'd been exposed to "a marvelous dance ritual from the ceremony of death." 

 

Though Hurston was going through hoodoo rituals for her research, she believed in their power and was affected by what she was experiencing. One initiation, which required Hurston to spend three days lying on a snakeskin while fasting, made a particular impression. Hurston later wrote, "On the third night, I had dreams that seemed real for weeks. In one, I strode across the heavens with lightning flashing from under my feet, and grumbling thunder following in my wake."

 

Hurston's Criticized Masterpiece
 

Many critics applauded Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God when it was first published in 1937. The novel tells the story of Janie Crawford, an African-American