January 7 – Happy Birthday, Zora Neale Hurston

Posted on January 7, 2015

I like the sound of Zola Neale Hurston! She is an author (one of the best jobs in the world, in my opinion, but I think that partly because I'm one, too), an anthropologist (the study of humans is always fascinating), and best of all a folklorist!

A folklorist is someone who studies (not surprisingly) folklore—which is the traditional customs and stories and perhaps beliefs of a community or culture. It's the stuff that is passed down through the generations by word of mouth.

Born in Alabama on this date in 1891, Hurston called Eatonville, Florida, “home.” She moved there when she was just three years old, and it was one of the first all-black towns incorporated in the United States.

Unfortunately, Hurston's mom died when she was still just a young teenager, and her dad remarried and sent her off to boarding school. But at some point he stopped paying her tuition, so the school expelled Hurston. She had to work and ended up lying about her age to be able to enter a cost-free high school and earn her diploma. She went on to attend multiple universities and earned a BA in anthropology at age 37.

So what do anthropologists and folklorists do?

They travel. They talk to people and immerse themselves in local culture and customs. They write about people's traditions and beliefs, and they right down the songs that they sing and the stories that they tell.

Hurston did all this traveling and talking and listening and writing in the Caribbean and in the American South.

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