Zora Neale Hurston
“‘A Genius of the South’ 1901-1960. Novelist, Folklorist, Anthropologist.”
–So reads the headstone of the possibly most contentious and controversial author of the 20th century. The epitaph was written and the headstone was erected by Alice Walker in 1975, after Walker’s search for Hurston’s unmarked grave, which Walker described in her highly influential MS. article, “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston.” Walker is thus credited with ending a lengthy period of obscurity for Hurston and initiating a blossoming of Hurston studies which continues to produce books, articles, and dissertations, as well as more discoveries of Huston’s prodigious output. The scholarship about Hurston, however, continues to be contentious, due in part to Hurston’s own tendency to tell many stories about herself, including the date of her birth. Subsequent researchers determined that she was actually born in 1891, a full ten years before the date Walker recorded from Hurston’s biography, though Hurston also gave several other dates in other places.
We will follow Hurston’s career from her upbringing in Etonville, an all-black Florida community, to her flamboyant presence in the 1920s Harlem Renaissance, her ethnological work with her mentor, Franz Boas, the “father of American Anthropology” on African American folklore in Florida and “Voodoo” in Haiti and New Orleans, to her final fall into obscurity late in life as her political views clashed with the prevailing African American strategies for racial equality. We will read her novels through the lens of her anthropology and her ethnographies through her fiction. We will also read critical assessments of her works through the lens of racial politics at various stages in American history: how critical assessments of her work have responded to changing perspectives and realities, such as the feminist movement. We will, finally, assess her ongoing relevance for today’s discourse and debates on race in America.
Requirements: Reading responses, study questions, research paper and associated assignments, and informal presentations on background material.
We will be reading all of Hurst’s major works, as well as a selection of her stories and essays, which have been collected into two texts, which you may purchase at the bookstore or online:
Zora Neale Hurston : Novels and Stories : Jonah’s Gourd Vine / Their Eyes Were Watching God / Moses, Man of the Mountain / Seraph on the Suwanee / Selected Stories (Library of America), Cheryl Wall, editor
Zora Neale Hurston : Folklore, Memoirs, and Other Writings : Mules and Men, Tell My Horse, Dust Tracks on a Road, Selected Articles (The Library of America), Cheryl Wall editor