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Zora Neale Hurston

“Zora is young and vibrant and spirited. And exceedingly attractive.” An interview arranged to promote the release of her first-ever book, Zora’s Richmond, Indiana interview of 1934 turned out instead to read more like the biography of a rising Eatonville, Florida star. The interviewer was obviously impressed, seemingly unable to say enough about the lively character of the new author.  “Spellbinding and bewitching is the personality of Zora Neale Hurston.”

Published in the Richmond Item of 14 November 1934, the interview had been arranged as part of the introduction of Zora’s first book. “She is the young author of a book called Jonah’s Gourd Vine,” the article said of the new fast-tracked book. Zora had mailed her completed manuscript to J. B. Lippincott & Co. publishing house on 3 November 1933. Lippincott, after receiving it on 6 November, mailed an acceptance letter on 16 November, merely ten days after receiving it. “The oldest publisher in the country,” said the article, “departed from a long-established custom of not publishing Negro books in their eagerness to print Jonah’s Gourd Vine.

The Zora Neale Hurston interview gave her birthplace as “Eatonville, in the first incorporated Negro town in the country.” Born June 1891, Zora was in fact a native of Alabama, although her family relocated to Eatonville when she was only two. “She attended grammar school in Eatonville and High School in Baltimore, Maryland,” said the article, “after which she attended Howard College.”

Zora entered a short story in a writing contest during her second year of college and won first prize. That entry also forever changed her life, as one of the judges happened to be Novelist Fannie Hurst (1889-1968), who after reading her story arranged a two-year scholarship for Zora at Barnard College. Another first; as Zora Neale Hurston became the first Black female ever to attend Barnard.

Zora’s “young, vibrant and spirited’ attitude had everything to do her continuous climb toward new career heights. Majoring in Anthropology, Zora, after graduation, was awarded a fellowship to study under Franz Uri Boas (1858-1842), considered the Father of American Anthropology. “Her study,” reported the 1934 interview, “was concentrated on the folk lore of her own race, collecting materials on music, tales, dancing, religious experiences, superstitions, and the like.”

Described as a story of love and community, Jonah’s Gourd Vine was loved by a community of book critics, earning the book’s author praise as one of the 20th century’s greatest authors.

Not usually referred to as a historian, Zora was able to write exceptionally well about her topic because of her research. Six years before the release of her first Novel, Zora had spent more than three months at Plateau, Alabama, home then to Cudjo Lewis, who at eighty-six years of age, was believed to be the sole-surviving slave captured in Africa and brought to America to be sold as a slave. That time spent with Cudjo also led Zora to writing Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo.

Zora Neale Hurston, an accomplished Author, Anthropologist, and Historian from Eatonville, Florida, died 28 January 1960. She was 69 years of age.    

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