1891 Born in Alabama
1960 Dies Fort Pierce, Florida
1937 - Published Their Eyes Were Watching God
Zora Neale Hurston was a novelist, a master of the short story, an anthropologist, focusing mostly on the culture of African Americans in central Florida and on the influence of Voodoo on the religious and spiritual views of those in this area. Her short stories are world class cultural treasures. She studied anthropology with Franz Boaz, mentor to Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict. She was extremely well read and highly educated. Tragically she died in poverty and obscurity. Her work is vital to students of Florida history.
I began reading her work years ago, quite by a happy accident. Only a few of her short stories are online and her Collected Short Stories is not available in a kindle edition. I was very happy to recently come upon one of her stories, “Mother Catherine” readable online.
“Mother Catherine” is kind of a mixture of a folklore study written with the literary craftsmanship of a master of the short story. Set in New Orleans along the Industrial Canal, maybe 1929 or so, Mother Catherine is a combination street preacher, healer and spiritual advisor to the African American community, her ideology is a mishmash of her knowledge of West African teachings , Voodoo and Christianity. You can read this in just a few minutes. It really is a pure delight.
Mother Catherine was a real person, you can read more about her at this link
I will share a bit of the work with you so you can get a feel for the prose style of Hurston:
“Catherine of Russia could not have been more impressive upon her throne than was this black Catherine sitting upon an ordinary chair at the edge of the platform within the entrance to the tent. Her face and manner are impressive. There is nothing cheap and theatrical about her. She does things and arranges her dwelling as no occidental would. But it is not for effect. It is for feeling. She might have been the matriarchal ruler of some nomadic tribe as she sat there with the blue band about her head like a coronet; a white robe and a gorgeous red cape falling away from her broad shoulders, and the box of shaker salt in her hand like a rod of office. I know this reads incongruous, but it did not look so. It seemed perfectly natural for me to go to my knees upon the gravel floor, and when she signaled to me to extend my right hand, palm up for the dab of blessed salt, I hurried to obey because she made me feel that way.”