Zora Neale Hurston was an African-American anthropologist, novelist, and dramatist during the time of the Harlem Renaissance, best known today for her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God
. During her early life Hurston was considered a rising star in anthropology; she worked with hugely influential anthropologists like Franz Boas
and compiled a number of studies on Haitian religious practices and the folk culture of black Floridians. Hurston's novels are seen as some of the greatest works to emerge out of the Harlem Renaissance period in African-American literature, and her anthropological works, with their unique blend of anthropology and autobiography, are seen as forerunners of contemporary ethnography, which blurs the line between fiction and non-fiction. Hurston is now, along with Langston Hughes
and Richard Wright
, one of the most widely read and respected of African-American authors. Her works have been cited as a direct influence by a number of prominent contemporary novelists, including Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. Her politics, however, put her in opposition to the prevailing attitudes of Langston Hughes and many of those associated with the Harlem Renaissance. She opposed communism vociferously. She was a member of the old libertarian right, who also disagreed with the Supreme Court
ruling in Brown v. Board of Education
that ended school segregation, arguing that it was insulting to blacks who didn't need white people in order to succeed. Hurston's views were not popular and she retreated from public life. This controversy over the proper relationship between blacks and whites in America remains unresolved today, both as an issue in the black community and in the larger culture as well. How do we move beyond the past towards true reconciliation that nonetheless recognizes past injustices and differences in culture? This remains a pressing concern and unfinished project in American culture.