Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston would never had died penniless and unknown if she had lived in the age of Oprah. Their Eyes Were Watching God is, in Oprah Winfrey's words, her "favorite love story of all time." In 2005 the media mogul produced a television adaptation of the book starring Halle Berry. More than 24.6 million people watched it.13
In 1945, more than a decade before her own death in obscurity, Hurston wrote to the famous black scholar W.E.B. DuBois to suggest the creation of a cemetery for "the illustrious Negro dead" in Florida. "Let no Negro celebrity, no matter what financial condition they might be in at death, lie in inconspicuous forgetfulness," she wrote. "We must assume the responsibility of their graves being known and honored." DuBois wasn't interested.
The Hurston/Wright Foundation is a non-profit founded in 1990 to support black writers. Ironically, the two writers it is named for hated each other. Richard Wright disparaged Their Eyes Were Watching God when it first came out, writing in a scathing review that its use of black vernacular language was demeaning and offensive.14
While conducting anthropological research in the Bahamas in 1929, Hurston survived a five-day hurricane, rescuing herself and another family from a home moment before it was flattened.15
Hurston struggled financially all her life, never earning more than $943.75 in royalties from any single book. Once she even pawned her typewriter.16
Sadly, a tour of Hurston's Harlem is no longer possible. Most of the boarding houses and hot spots where she spent her time no longer exist, destroyed during Harlem's post-Renaissance bleak years during the Great Depression.17