Today is (probably) the birthday of Zora Neale Hurston. She claimed January 7 as her birthday and Eatonville, FL as her place of birth, though sometimes she said she was born one year, sometimes another. Research has established that she was actually born in Notasulga, Alabama in 1891, and the Hurston family Bible and census records suggest that her birthday is actually January 15.
Thanks to the hard work of many activists to open the canon of American literature and include more work by female and African-American writers–and thanks especially to an article titled “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston” by Alice Walker that appeared in Ms. magazine in 1975 and a talk Walker gave at the Modern Language Association meeting in 1979–Hurston’s work has been brought back into print. Her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God is studied in high school and college American literature courses. Walker also edited a collection of Hurston’s shorter pieces, I Love Myself When I Am Laughing, for the Feminist Press in 1979, making her essays widely available. Among those essays is the incredible “How It Feels to Be Colored Me”, which appeared first in a Christian pacifist publication, The World Tomorrow, in May 1928. The wit in the punning title continues into the opening line of the essay where Hurston talks about the nature of her heritage: “I am colored but I offer nothing in the way of extenuating circumstances except the fact that I am the only Negro in the United States whose grandfather on the mother’s side was not an Indian chief.” // Ned Stuckey-French