Although Zora Neale Hurston is most known for her novel Their Eyes Are Watching God, published in 1937, she authored numerous works of literature in the first half of the 20th century, including novels, short stories, plays, a collection of southern African-American folklore, and an autobiography.

Hurston was born in January 1891 and grew up in Eatonville, Florida, an all-black community near Orlando. She said that she had a very comfortable, happy childhood until her mother died in 1904. After her father remarried, Hurston was shuffled between various family members until she left home to work as a maid to a troupe of travelling performers. She lied about her age throughout her life, starting when she reported her birth year as 1901 in order to complete high school, because, at age 26, she would have been too old to qualify for free public schooling.

Hurston went on to attend Howard University and Barnard College in the early 20s, around the same time that she started publishing short stories in literary magazines. She began to receive wide-spread recognition for her work after a short story, “Spunk,” and a play, Color Struck, received second place in a literary contest from Opportunity magazine.

Even during her lifetime, Hurston was considered to be one of the most influential writers of the Harlem Renaissance, befriending literary greats such as Langston Hughes. Despite her success as a writer, Hurston nonetheless lived most of her life in poverty. Because of this, her grave was unmarked until Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, installed a headstone in 1973.

Walker campaigned for a revival of Hurston’s work, bringing her into the literary canon. Today, Hurston is read widely by students and scholars.

Video: Zora Neale Hurston – American Folklorist, from Bio.