Zora Neale Hurston

January 7, 1891 — January 28, 1960

Harlem Renaissance writer and anthropologist

Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston was an extremely influential writer and folklorist of the Harlem Rennaissance; in addition to her four novels, including her 1937 masterpiece Their Eyes Were Watching God, she published more than fifty short stories, plays, and essays. Hurston was also a respected anthropologist whose research on oral cultures and folk traditions in the Caribbean informed much of her writing. She conducted ethnographic research in Jamaica and Haiti in the late 1930s on a Guggenheim Fellowship; her 1938 work Tell My Horse documents her studies of indigenous ritual in both countries.1 Today, she is lauded for her contributions to academic understanding of African American folklore, and for her representations of language and oral tradition in her work.

Hurston’s short story “Religion,” from the 1942 collection Dust Tracks on a Road, recalls her earliest encounters with humanist thought; as a child raised in the Baptist Church, she found herself “questing” for answers and doubting the certainty and dogma around her. Of her congregation’s unquestioning faith, she wrote that she could not “understand the passionate declarations of love for a being that nobody could see.... When I was asked if I loved God, I always said yes because I knew that was the thing I was supposed to say. It was a guilty secret with me for a long time.” She concluded, “Why fear? The stuff of my being is matter, ever changing, ever moving, but never lost; so what need of denominations and creeds to deny myself the comfort of all my fellow men? The wide belt of the universe has no need for finger-rings. I am one with the infinite and need no other assurance.”2

  1. The official website of Zora Neale Hurston. http://zoranealehurston.com/about/

  2. Zora Neale Hurston, “Religion,” in Dust Tracks on a Road. (New York: Harper-Collins, 1942) 215–226.