Today’s Google Doodle brings a shot of literary history to the Internet. The graphic features one of the literary luminaries of the American South, Zora Neale Hurston, as today marks what would have been her 123rd birthday.
Hurston is perhaps best known for her masterpiece Their Eyes Were Watching God, which she published in 1937. In 2010, TIME Magazine, named it one of the 100 best English-language novels, and called it “the great tale of black female survival in a world beset by bad weather and bad men.” Making extensive use of dialect, it follows the trials and triumphs of a black woman in early 20th century Florida. It was no doubt inspired by Hurston’s childhood in the rural black community of Eatonville, FL, where she grew up surrounded by successful role models that gave her a confident start in life.
She had the gift of “walking into hearts,” as one friend put it, and that allowed her to win donations and help from whoever befriended her. She bootstrapped her way into the Harlem Renaissance, where her house, furnished with donations from friends, became an “open house” for other artists to socialize in. But like so many great writers – and no doubt hampered by the lack of economic opportunities for black women – Hurston earned little money from her work, the largest royalty she ever earned being $943.75. When she died in 1960, a collection had to be made at her funeral, but she ended up buried in an unmarked grave until 1973, when “The Color Purple” author Alice Walker, touched by her lasting influence, was able to give her a headstone: ”Zora Neale Hurston: A Genius of the South.”