Zora Neale Hurston and Black Folk Culture
This chapter provides a comparative look at Zora Neale Hurston’s brief career as a trained anthropologist and her experiences with the Federal Writers’ Project as a member of Florida’s segregated Negro Writers’ Unit. Using Hurston’s ethnography of black folk culture, Mules and Men, the chapter examines Hurston’s many roles: ethnographer, protégé of white patrons, and native informant for her white colleagues. Correspondence with Langston Hughes and Franz Boas while she was conducting field work reveals her methods for getting inside black folk communities, and how her approach to her informants and material significantly diverged from academic conventions. Hurston’s emphasis on black folk traditions and vernacular also placed her at odds with fellow employees of Florida’s Negro Writers’ Unit who wished to emphasize assimilation into the bourgeoisie. The marginalization of Hurston’s contributions exposes the fissures that developed within the African American intelligentsia over how to represent black identity and culture.
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