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The Sum of Life: Zora Neale Hurston — THE BITTER SOUTHERNER

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Myths ferried Zora Neale Hurston through life. And long after her death in 1960, they coursed through her work like a stream. But at times, it seemed those very myths hung over her like a constellation made up of stars she’d arranged herself.

Time, a lifelong enemy of Hurston’s, reached her on January 28, 1960, when she died of a stroke in Fort Pierce, Florida — a tiny town bisected by the Indian River 120 miles north of Miami. On February 4, 1960, the Associated Press ran her obituary. It read, “Zora Neale Hurston, author, died in obscurity and poverty.” And with those words, syndicated in The New York Times and in papers from Jamaica to California, a new set of myths formed. Some listed her age at 57, others 58. After all, depending on what suited her, she told people she was born in 1901, 1902, or 1903 — in Eatonville, Florida.

But as it turned out, none of this was true.

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Portrait of Zora Neale Hurston by Carl Van Vechten in 1938, Courtesy of the University of Florida

Portrait of Zora Neale Hurston by Carl Van Vechten in 1938, Courtesy of the University of Florida

 

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