Novelist, anthropologist, folklorist – Zora Neale Hurston’s work in a range of fields contributed greatly to the preservation of African-American folk traditions, as well as to American literature.
Born in Eatonville, Florida, the first incorporated all-Black city, Hurston studied anthropology at Barnard College in New York with famed scholar Franz Boas (she was the first African-American woman to graduate from the college), and did graduate work at Columbia University.
She conducted field work in African-American folklore all over the South. She began publishing novels; Their Eyes Were Watching God is often considered her finest novel. She taught for some years at what is now North Carolina Central University, and won a Guggenheim fellowship to pursue her writing. Her 1942 autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road, was one of her last major works; in it, she wrote, “I want a busy life, a just mind, and a timely death.” Hurston’s work enouraged the study of folklore and anthropology nationwide. Her intense focus on the lives of African-American women has been of equal or greater impact.