Born on Jan. 7, 1891, in Notasulga, Alabama, Hurston moved with her family to Eatonville, Florida, when she was still a toddler. Eatonville was the nation’s first incorporated black township and, as such, Hurston did not experience any racial inferiority as a young child. Her mother died when she was 13 years old and, following her father's remarriage, Hurston joined a Gilbert & Sullivan traveling troupe as maid to one of the singers. By the time she arrived in Baltimore at the age of 26, she had still not finished high school so she presented herself as 16 and enrolled for free public schooling. She went on to attend Howard University and Barnard College, where she studied anthropology with Franz Boas.
Hurston moved to Harlem to carry out anthropological field work in 1926. While there, she befriended writers such as Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen. Hurston began to have success writing short stories and entering playwriting competitions. She and Langston Hughes co-wrote the play, Mule Bone (1930), but the writers fell out shortly after and it was not performed until 1991. Sponsored by the wealthy philanthropist, Charlotte Osgood Mason, Hurston published Mules and Men (an autoethnographical collection of African-American folklore) in 1935. She traveled extensively throughout the American South and the Caribbean carrying out anthropological studies.
Towards the end of her life, Hurston struggled financially and she was forced to take a series of menial jobs to survive. She entered the St. Lucie County Welfare, where she suffered a stroke. She died in January 1960 and was buried in an unmarked grave until novelist Alice Walker erected a gravestone in 1973.
Hurston married three times, divorcing for the final time in 1944.
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