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Zora Neale Hurston

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Zora Neale Hurston

On March 21, 1924, the National Urban League, spearheaded by Charles Johnson, held a dinner to introduce new literary talent to New York City's black community. This dinner party resulted in the Survey Graphic, a magazine whose attention was upon social and cultural pluralism, to publish a special Harlem edition, which would feature the works of Harlem's black writers and was to be edited by Alain Locke. Locke, a literary scholar, black philosopher, professor and authority on black culture, later expanded the Harlem special edition of the Survey Graphic into and anthology he titled The New Negro. Soon, the very cultural movement Survey Graphic hoped to shine light upon would be recognized as the New Negro Movement but later this movement later grew to be known as the Harlem Renaissance (wikipedia). From this cultural movement, an identity would grow. Represented in the writing and the ideas disseminating from Harlem at the time, the Harlem Renaissance has grown to represent a period of unparalleled progressive thought as well as the introduction of black ideas and art into American culture. No longer were Black writers imitating a white style of writing. An expression of black culture represented an equality and a pride in a race that for hundreds of years was supposedly second-class. This movement spawned the some of the most acclaimed African-American authors to date such as Langston Hughes, Wallace Thurman as well as Zora Neale Hurston; one of the most infamous and revolutionary authors the Harlem Renaissance would produce.

Understanding the ideals and themes of Zora Neale Hurston comes with an understanding of the upbringing and childhood she had. Born on the seventh of January 1981 in Notasluga, Alabama, Zora Neale Huston was the fifth of eight children by John Hurston and Lucy Ann Potts. John Hurston was a sharecropper, carpenter and Baptist preacher while Hurston's mother, Lucy Ann Potts, was a schoolteacher. At the age of three John Hurston moved the family to Eatonville, where he would become mayor of the small town of 125. Eatonville was like no other town in the United States during the last years of the Nineteenth century (Hemenway). In 1863, Eatonville was one of the first all black towns to be chartered after the emancipation proclamation and in 1887 was the first of these towns to be incorporated. Her childhood here shaped her ideas and reality and, as would later be seen in her writing, would shape her views on race. The wonderful life in utopian Eatonville was lost after the death of her mother in 1904, which led the young Zora Neale Hurston away from the halls of academics and into domestics. Her father quickly remarried a woman that Hurston did not like and had left the household at age 14, first caring after her brother's children and later as a domestic servant in Baltimore. It was here in Baltimore where Hurston reentered academia, enrolling in the Morgan Academy, a High School operated by what is now Morgan State University. Upon graduation, Hurston enrolled at Howard University in Washington where Hurston's life would forever be changed. It was at Howard University in 1918 where she met a young Alain Locke who further inspired her strong pride in black heritage and also inspired her to pursue a literary career.

In 1921, Hurston published her first short story, "John Redding Goes to Sea", in the Howard University literary magazine The Stylus, in which John Redding struggles to suppress his desire for the "open road, rolling seas, for peoples and countries I have never seen". It was after this foreboding short story, in 1925, when Zora Neale Hurston arrived in Harlem, just as the Harlem Renaissance was becoming the cultural movement studied today. Hurston enrolled in Barnard College, the all woman affiliate of Columbia University after being awarded a scholarship (Hemenway). She arrived as the foundation for the Harlem Renaissance was hardening. Intellectuals such as WEB Dubois, leaders such as Claude McKay and authors such as Wallace Thurman and Langston Hughes had already arrived in New York. The stage was set for Cultural Revolution.

In 1925, Hurston makes her first literary ripples with the publication of her short story Spunk in both Opportunity and The New Negro anthology edited by Hurston's friends from Howard, Alain Locke. The story is one of hubris and pride as the title character, Spunk Banks, is presumably killed by the spirit of Joe Kanty after Joe Kanty tried to enact revenge upon Spunk for sleeping with Joe's wife, Lena. The story marks Hurston's understanding of Southern dialect and culture. The story is riddled with folklore with roots in her native Eatonville and it's all black culture. After the publication of Spunk, Hurston's short stories began to be published with greater frequency. During this stretch her story Sweat was published in the only issue of Fire!! Magazine. Fire!! Was started by Hurston with Langston Hughes and Wallace Thurman so as to be an outlet for art for art's sake. Sweat exemplifies one of Hurston's most common themes throughout all her stories, the strong, and proud woman (DuPlesis). But once again, the Eatonville set story leaves little room for discussion of race relations during a time where black intellectuals feel the issue must be at the forefront of black culture. This criticism would continue to follow Hurston while white literati would continue to praise her narratives of black culture.

Hurston's works to date had been very anthropologic and this had caught the attention of the controversial Columbia University anthropologist Franz Boas. Under the tutelage of Boas, Hurston grew to embrace the oral tradition and folk culture of her native Eatonville much more than she already did. From 1927 through 1932 Hurston, financed by her patron Charlotte Osgood Mason, whom she met through her friend Alain Clarke traveled the south collecting folklore. In 1933 Gilded Six-Bits was published in Story. Gilded Six-Bits once again dealt with infidelity and marriage as well as the temptation of wealth. Once again the short story represented black life with little embellishment of events. The simplicity of the story contrasted with the depth of each character left the story reading like it were an event that was being covered for the news. This story garnered Hurston interest from publishing houses inquiring whether or not she was writing a novel. It was after this interest that Hurston began writing her first novel, which she initially called Big Nigger and was published as Jonah's Gourd Vine in which John Pearson moves to the all-black Florida town of Sanford where he becomes a Baptist Preacher. The thin faÐ*ade of Sanford fooled nobody and once again it was clear that the main character of this story was Eatonville and

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