Zora Neale Hurston Gets The Spotlight In Upcoming Documentary

Source: Yale University Library / Yale University Library

A new in-depth, biographical film on Zora Neale Hurston premiere on PBS in January.

Presented by American Experience, Zora Neale Hurston: Claiming A space will showcase the life and work of the acclaimed Black female writer. Known as a “literary giant of the Harlem Renaissance,” Hurston’s work was pivotal to shifting the perception of Blackness, womanhood, and southern culture in the early 1900s. 

The documentary will be an all-expansive view on Hurston’s legacy, her contribution to the genre of Black folklore, and her anthropological research as an alum of Howard University and Barnard college. Her formative years, in addition to her raising in Florida, prompted Hurston to hone her research onto her community and the vibrant Black diaspora. Her most famous work, Their Eyes Were Watching God, details the experience of a Black female protagonist as she recounts her life growing up in central Florida in the 20th century. Her magnum opus, written while in Haiti, explores the gender dynamics of the era, as well as the lasting impact of slavery at the turn of the century. 

What is lesser known about Hurston, but just as pertinent, is Hurston’s writings outside of her direct fictional narratives. Engaging with Black people of the southern U.S. and the Caribbean in her academic travels, Hurston composed papers of these stories and memories, from traditional folklore to customs such as “hoodoo.” However, as many talented, but marginalized Black writers encounter, Hurston’s well-researched and captivating prose was not enough to sustain her, and struggled with financial stability until the end of her life. 

Zora Neale Hurston, a woman who transcribed the importance of Black customs and livelihoods, is a pivotal figure in American history and essential reading of the American experience. This documentary is well overdue for an African-American writer whose contributions to society, in a cultural and literary sense, is deeply impactful a century later.

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