“I have been in Sorrow’s kitchen and licked out all the pots.”
— Zora Neale Hurston (Dust Tracks on a Road)
We owe it all to Alice Walker (The Color Purple). Walker traveled to Hurston’s hometown of Eatonville, Fla., to find out more about the novelist. She learned that Hurston died in 1960 from complications of a stroke. She died poor, alone, forgotten. The former contemporary of W.E.B. Dubois, Langton Hughes and Richard Wright now was buried in an unmarked grave. Walker paid for a headstone to mark her final resting place. The headstone is inscribed, “Genius of the South.”
Later, Walker wrote an article about the trip, “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston,” that was published in Ms. magazine in 1975. It snatched Hurston out of obscurity and lit the academic and literary communities on fire.
Alice Walker has crafted a rich literacy legacy in her own right, but giving Zora back to us is her greatest gift. Thank you, Ms. Walker. In the introduction to Robert Hemenway’s “Zora Neale Hurston: A Literary Biography” (University of Illinois Press, 1977), Walker wrote,
“We are a people. A people do not throw their geniuses away. And if they are thrown away, it is our duty as artists and as witnesses for the future to collect them again for the sake of our children, and, if necessary, bone by bone.” (emphasis in original)
In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens by Alice Walker (reprint of Ms. article)
Photographs of Zora Neale Hurston’s gravesite