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Zora Neale. Picture for US Postal Stamp, 2003. Hurston. Early Life. 1891 – 1960 I “grew like a gourd and yelled bass like a gator.” Notasulga, Alabama Eatonville, Florida Father: carpenter, preacher, mayor Mother: died 1904 “jump at the sun.”. Out in the World.

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Zora Neale

Picture for US Postal Stamp, 2003


early life
Early Life
  • 1891 – 1960
  • I “grew like a gourd

and yelled bass like a gator.”

  • Notasulga, Alabama
  • Eatonville, Florida
  • Father: carpenter, preacher, mayor
  • Mother: died 1904 “jump at the sun.”
out in the world
Out in the World
  • At 13: taken or forced out of school
  • At 16: traveling theater company
education and career
Education and Career
  • Howard University (1920)
  • Harlem Renaissance
  • 1927: helped found Fire!
  • Barnard College
  • Columbia University
  • Anthropology and Folklore
  • Teacher, librarian, and domestic helper
work for benefactor
Work for Benefactor
  • Mrs. R. Osgood Mason of Park Ave. New York
  • Monthly allowance for 5 years to collect folklore of the South
  • Criticized for flattering letters
other works
Other Works
  • Jonah’s Gourd Vine, 1934 [1991]
  • Mules and Men, 1935
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God 1937
  • Tell My Horse, 1938
  • Moses, Man of the Mountain, 1939
  • Dust Tracks on a Road, 1942
  • Seraph on the Suwanee, 1948
early critical reception of their eyes were watching god
Early Critical Reception of Their Eyes Were Watching God
  • Sterling Brown: It does not “depict the harsher side of black life in the South”
  • Richard Wright: It “carries no theme, no message, no thought,” but is like a minstrel show.
  • Benjamin Brawley: “Her interest . . . Is not in solving problems, the chief concern being with individuals.”

Richard Wright

affirmative view of african american culture
Affirmative View of African American Culture
  • But I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow damned up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all. I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are hurt about it. . . . No, I do not weep at the world—I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.

--“How It Feels to Be Colored Me”

  • Politically conservative in 1950s
  • Opposed 1954 Supreme Court desegregation decision
last years
Last Years
  • Arrested in 1948
  • Solitary retirement in Florida
  • Died in a welfare home
  • Buried in an unmarked grave
  • A Genius of the South: 1901 [sic]---1960. Novelist, Folklorist, Anthropologist
current critical issues
Current Critical Issues
  • Alice Walker: “There is no book

more important to me.”

  • Female bonding  self-definition
  • Questions about “voice”
  • Role of folklore: magic of 3’s,

tale of courtly love, symbols

that aid in retelling

  • A regional or social variety of a language distinguished by pronunciation, grammar, or vocabulary, especially a way of speaking that differs from the standard variety of the language
  • Dialect in Writing"Do not attempt to use dialect [when writing] unless you are a devoted student of the tongue you hope to reproduce. If you use dialect, be consistent. . . . The best dialect writers, by and large, are economical of their talents, they use the minimum, not the maximum, of deviation from the norm, thus sparing the reader as well as convincing him."(William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White, The Elements of Style, 3rd ed. Macmillan, 1979)
dialect in their eyes
Dialect in Their Eyes
  • Read the second paragraph on page two silently to yourself.
  • Choose one person in your table group to read that same paragraph aloud to the group.
  • What do you notice?
  • Folklore is the traditional art, literature, knowledge, and practice that is disseminated largely through oral communication and behavioral example.
  • These different kinds of expressions include songs, rhymes, folktales, myths, jokes, and proverbs.
  • Predict how Hurston will use folklore in Their Eyes.

Crabtree, Claire. “The Confluence of Folklore, Feminism and Black Self-Determination in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.” The Southern Literary Journal, 17:2 (54-66)

Jordan, Jennifer. “Feminist Fantasies: Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.” Tulsa Studies in Women&apos’s Literature. 7:1 (105-17).

Saunders, James Robert. “Womanism as the Key to Understanding Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple.” The Hollins Critic. 25:4 (1-11).

Washington, Mary Helen. Foreword. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. New York: Perennial Classics, 1998.

----------. Introduction. I Love Myself When I Am Laughing. Alice Walker, Ed. New York: The Feminist Press, 1979.

Zora Neale Hurston. Biography. Contemporary Literary Criticism. Literature Resource Center, January 2003. <>