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”...

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