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Honoring Zora

By A Treasure Coast essay by Paul Janensch


Fort Pierce, FL – She died in obscurity in 1960. Her neighbors took up a collection for her funeral, but they could not pay for a headstone. Today she is one of the most celebrated individuals ever to have lived in Fort Pierce. I'm talking about Zora Neale Hurston, recognized again as a very important writer in the first half of the 20th century. Her many works of fiction and non-fiction include the riveting novel "Their Eyes Were Watching God." Zora - as everyone refers to her -- was raised in the all-black town of Eatonville near Orlando. She established herself as a keen interpreter of the black experience, especially in the South, and was a star of the Harlem Renaissanceb cultural movement. But her fame slipped away and she fell on hard times. In 1957 Zora moved to Fort Pierce. She wrote for the Chronicle, a black community newspaper, and taught at Lincoln Park Academy, then an all-black segregated school. Thirteen years after Zora's death, Alice Walker, author of "The Color Purple," found her weed-covered grave. All this year, Fort Pierce has marked the 50th anniversary of Zora's death with a Zorafest of events. Since the 1970s, her grave has had a headstone. It says, "Zora Neale Hurston: A Genius of the South." For 88.9 FM, this is Paul Janensch.

Treasure Coast essayist Paul Janensch was a newspaper editor and taught journalism at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut.