This volume introduces Hurston and her works in a manner that makes evident her full engagement with life and her continuing significance to African American women's literature, African American literature, American history and literature, cultural anthropology, and gender studies. She is one of very few African American women writers whose work most college students will experience during her or his undergraduate career. In the tradition of African American women writers, her name is as familiar as that of Toni Morrison and Alice Walker; yet she died in relative obscurity – a staunch individualist to the very end. Since Alice Walker and others rescued Hurston from literary oblivion in the 1970s, several scholars have produced works focusing on her life, work, philosophy, politics, and critical reception.
This volume, intended for general readers, is divided into four sections: Life, Contexts, Works, and Critical Reception. The chapter on Hurston's life places the author in her historical, social, and political milieu. Beginning with her early life as a precocious child in the all-black town of Eatonville, Florida, the chapter charts Hurston's intimate relationships, educational experiences, participation in the Harlem Renaissance/New Negro Movement, post-Renaissance activities and, finally, decline, death, and cultural resurrection. It examines significant life-shaping events and experiences, such as her premature exit from home following her mother's death and her father's remarriage, her arrival in Harlem just as the New Negro Movement was heating up, her marriages, the love affair of her life with Percival Punter, studying with famed anthropologist Franz Boas, her (sometimes problematic) association with patron Charlotte Osgood Mason, the never-ending struggle to secure financing for her literary endeavors, and her travels and fieldwork.