Zora Neale Hurston: Out of Obscurity

Both praised and scorned in her day, this flamboyant writer of the Harlem Renaissance is attracting new generations of literary fans

Zora Neale Hurston, one of the most prolific of the Harlem Renaissance writers, spent her last days in a welfare home and in 1960 was laid to rest in an unmarked grave, soon to be forgotten. In her day she had been a folklorist, novelist and anthropologist. She was high-spirited, intelligent and irreverent. Her colorful stories about life in the all-black town of Eatonville, Florida, made her the toast of New York parties and charmed her patrons.

 But Hurston was also outspoken and controversial, especially on racial issues. Fiercely proud of black folk traditions and culture, she wrote about "the Negro farthest down," a passion irksome to the 1920s Harlem literati striving to prove intellectual parity with whites. Hurston glossed over inequities between the races, refused to be part of "the sobbing school of Negrohood" and later even opposed the landmark 1954 desegregation decision. As black writers heralded a new era of realistic fiction, Hurston's aesthetic voice would be lost in the clamor.

Then, in 1973, novelist Alice Walker wrote a magazine article about finding Hurston's grave and sparked a resurgence of interest in the writer that has been growing ever since. Hurston's most popular work among today's readers is her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, a feminist story of a woman's quest for self-expression. Our article chronicles the story of Hurston's meteoric rise, her decline into obscurity and her subsequent literary revival.

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