March_2012_pic_4
View

Zora Neale Hurston's White Mare

When novelist Zora Neale Hurston died penniless in a Florida nursing home in 1960, she was buried in a charity cemetery in an unmarked grave, an ironic resting place for a talented American writer and folklorist who, by all accounts, was a dazzling and memorable personality.  Though her success had never been more than modest, the last 12 years of her life ushered in an almost complete eclipse of her fortunes as a novelist.  The reasons for this are complicated.  She had begun her career as a trained anthropologist (under the tutelage of Franz Boas) and folklorist whose first collection of Southern black folktales, Mules and Men, established her as a master of Afro-American dialect.  Her best-known novels, Jonah’s Gourd Vine (1934) and Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), as well as her controversial autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road (1942), drew heavily upon the folkloric idiom, one which she knew firsthand, having been born and reared in the all-black village of Eatonville, Florida.  As long as her characters remained within a lower-class black milieu she was able to find willing publishers and avid readers.  As Hurston explained in a 1950 essay, “What White Publishers Won’t Print,” black writers during the Jim Crow era were expected to meet certain expectations.  Either they confined themselves to the “unnatural history”...

Join now to access the full article and gain access to other exclusive features.

Get Started

Already a member? Sign in here

X