And jump she did!
Zora’s mother died when she was 13. Her father, a preacher and womanizer, remarried in less than a year. Zora got the short end of the stick in this new relationship and she was “passed around like a bad penny” to relatives. She had to drop out of school and survived by working as a domestic, waitress and manicurist, basically on her own for more than a decade.
She didn’t start high school until she was 26, The story goes that she shaved 10 years off her age so she could attend for free as a minor. She attended the high school division of Morgan State College in Baltimore and earned an associate degree from Howard University.
But she didn’t stop there. She was the first Black female graduate of Barnard College, earning a B.A. in anthropology. She won prestigious fellowships from the Rosenwald and Guggenheim foundations. Her stories were published in several magazines, and she was on the cover of the Saturday Review, one of the top literary magazines.
Hurston wrote Their Eyes Were Watching God in seven weeks while on a 1937 research trip in Haiti. Seven weeks! It has been called “one of the finest (novels of all time…in the same category…of William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway.” Even a PBS documentary on the life of this brilliant, complicated woman, narrated by S. Epatha Merkerson, won rave reviews and awards.
Deciding halfway through the month to honor Zora has been a fun and rewarding experience. I am continually thrilled to see that interest in her continues to grow. For many years, I was merely captivated by her prose. But the nosey journalist in me wanted to know the woman. So it soothed the not-so-amateur researcher in me to discover new information. So much about her personal life is a mystery. There are gaps that may never be filled. Life for her was no crystal stair, as they say.
Just yesterday, I found out about a recent biography on Zora that I missed: Wrapped in Rainbows by Valerie Boyd. Of course, I ordered a copy from Amazon.com immediately. Here’s a link to the documentary with Zora speaking and singing!