Hurston is best known for her analysis of African American culture in several novels, especially “Their Eyes Were Watching God” (1937). Other work includes her first novel “Jonah’s Gourd Vine” (1934) and “Mules and Men” (1935), a study of folkways among African-Americans in Florida. “Tell My Horse” (1938) was based on her investigations of voodoo in Haiti. “Dust Tracks on a Road” (1942) is Hurston’s highly regarded autobiography. She also taught at North Carolina College for Negroes, wrote for Warner Brothers motion picture studio, and was on the staff of the Library of Congress. She was associated with the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and influenced other writers such as Ralph Ellison and Toni Morrison.
Born in Eatonville, Florida, the first all-black incorporated city in the United States, Hurston went to Harlem at age 16 as part of a traveling theatrical company. She attended Howard University before transferring to Barnard College where she graduated with a degree in anthropology in 1928. She then pursued graduate studies in anthropology for two years at Columbia University. She lived in New York City until 1950 but spent much of her time traveling throughout the American South and also to Haiti, Bermuda, and the Honduras to study the folkways of African-Americans. Although her early work was well received, she became increasingly conservative and alienated from her fellow African-Americans as a result of her political opinions, which included opposition to school integration. She moved to Florida in 1950 and died in obscure poverty ten years later. Her writing was “rediscovered” by critics and readers in the later years of the 20th century.