Resurrection: The Critical Reception of Zora Neale Hurston, 1934-1977
Jeaneal C. Bigger
Henry L. Gates, Jr.
Thesis DT 3.5 1989 B592
vii, 168 leaves; 29 cm.
The study of Zora Neal Hurston and her writing have undergone and enormous revival in the past twenty years. This revival is significant because Hurston, an artist of the Harlem Renaissance and one of the most prolific Black American female authors, was almost lost to us. She died in obscurity and poverty, and her books were allowed to go out of print until her recent reclamation in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This thesis attempts to explore Hurston's critical reception beginning with the publication of her first book in 1934 and ending with the publication of Robert Hemenway's Zora Neale Hurston: A Literary Biography in 1977. It attempts to determine the forces that led to Hurston's initial popularity, her relative obscurity, her lack of commercial success as an author, and her recent, growing popularity.
The thesis is divided into three main sections:
1) Hurston's initial reception, 1934-1948
2) Hurston's obscurity and reclamation, 1948-1977
3) Contributions of Alice Walker and Robert Hemenway to the "Hurston Revival."
It concludes that each generation of Hurston's readers approaches her work with different orientations and ideologies that determine the value its members ascribe to her writing. The concerns of Hurston's contemporaries, both Black and white, led them to praise or criticize her writing according to their vastly different approaches to Black literature. Likewise, readers influenced by the search for a new Black Aesthetic in the late sixties and those influenced by the Women's Movement in the early seventies re-evaluated and reclaimed Hurston to suit their own agendas. Though Hurston faced tremendous obstacles in publishing because of her gender and her race and though her audience did not appreciated her writing fully in the 1930s and 1940s, she has been resurrected in the last twenty years. Zora Neale Hurston has been accorded a new place in the canons of Black literature, women's literature, and most importantly, American literature.