Zora Neale Hurston : A Biography of the Spirit

There have been many literary figures whose singular voices have been well known to other writers of their time, but are not widely known today to the reading public for a variety of reasons. In Zora Neale Hurston’s case, race surely has played its part, along with Hurston’s own belief system, which will take many out of their comfort zones.

In Deborah G. Plant’s biography, Zora Neale Hurston: A Biography of the Spirit, Plant examines Hurston’s spiritual beliefs and the influence they had over her life and works. I thought that the strength of this work was in bringing home the point that Hurston viewed herself first as a scientist, an anthropologist, in particular. She was driven to tell the African American story through her research in oral traditions, collecting songs and folklore from the deep backwoods of the South, to New Orleans, to Jamaica, to Haiti. All of her literary works and dramatic projects were informed by, and sought to shine a light on, the authentic African American experience.

Although, I found the details of her dealings with academia tedious, and I thought that comments in the last chapter by students from the Department of Africana Studies at the University of South Florida about a semester-long course focusing on her work read like page filler, I still enjoyed this book.

In the end, when I read a biography about a literary figure, especially one whose work I am not familiar with, the book is successful with me if it makes a good enough case to me that I might be interested in reading some their work. Zora Neale Hurston is known as the Queen of the Harlem Renaissance, and for good reason. I will definitely be exploring some of her work.

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