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Following Footsteps: Zora Neale Hurston

Published: Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Updated: Saturday, August 9, 2008 22:08

Novelist and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston, who once attended and instructed at Howard, is still a celebrated 20th century writer. One of her most famed works is the novel "Their Eyes Were Watching God."

Born January 7, 1891 in Notasulga, Ala., Hurston moved to Eatonville, Fla., a setting that was commonly related to in her writings.

From 1918 to 1924, she was active in the Howard community.

While she did not complete her education at the university, Hurston did co-found The Hilltop along with Louis Eugene King in 1924.

"The most important part about her participation in The Hilltop is that she wasn't exactly a student when she worked with The Hilltop," said Drew Costley, the current Hilltop editor in chief. "It really says a lot about where The Hilltop was in relationship with professors."

Costley said The Hilltop now has one real ally in the Office of Student Activities, Kevin Reed, as well as technical support in Yanick Rice-Lamb, the newspaper's faculty advisor.

"Now some administrators don't give students support; there aren't as many champions for the newspaper," Costley said.

After receiving a scholarship, Hurston completed her education at Barnard College, where she received a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology in 1927.

In 1925, just after enrolling at Barnard, the young Hurston became one of the leaders of literature in the Harlem Renaissance. Hurston worked with Langston Hughes and Wallace Thurman in creating the magazine "Fire!!" during this time.

Hurston's writing abilities flourished, and she went on to write the critically acclaimed book "Mules and Men" in 1935, which documents African-American folklore.

Among her many literary works, she completed the novel "Their Eyes Were Watching God" in 1937. She wrote "Tell My Horse" that same year after being awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship to study in the Caribbean.

"Her work is prolific and she spoke of things that are happening now," said Ashley Featherson, a junior musical theater major. "It has attributed a lot to Howard University, and she is very supportive of where she came from."

Many readers enjoy Hurston's work because of the representation of African-American dialect in the pieces.

Featherson said Hurston is a writer who influenced many African-American women by writing and thinking in innovative ways as a "renaissance woman."

Hurston was also a believer in the self-help message of Booker T. Washington. She involved herself in activism in 1952 by promoting the presidential candidacy of Robert Taft, as she was equally opposed to integration.

Hurston voiced her opposition to the Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954 in "Court Order Can't Make the Races Mix," a letter that was published in 1955.

She argued that the future cultural traditions may be compromised if whites taught black students and that blacks should be self-sustaining.

Some of her initiatives and works have been recognized by several colleges, as she was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Letters from Morgan State University in 1939, Howard University's Distinguished Alumni Award in 1943 and the Education and Human Relations award from Bethune-Cookman College in 1956.

However, many argue that Hurston never received the financial awards she was due. According to zoranealehurston.com, the largest sum she earned from any of her books was $943.75. When she died on Jan. 28, 1960 from a stroke, she did not have enough money to pay for a marked headstone.

But Hurston was not forgotten. In 1973, novelist Alice Walker saw that Hurston's gravestone was marked. Two years later, Walker published the article "In Search of Zora Neale Hurston" in Ms. Magazine. The article renewed interest in Hurston's works, which were newly compared to works by Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou.

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