It is 1960 Zora Neale Hurston author and anthropologist, who at this point has published numerous articles, plays and books, received two Guggenheim Fellowships, an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Morgan State College as well as Howard University’s Distinguished Alumni Award having earned an associate degree there in 1920, dies.
She has suffered a stroke the year before, and at her passing her neighbours have no recourse but to take up a collection. It is in the end insufficient to purchase a headstone, and she is buried in an unmarked grave.
Return to 1945, Hurston writes to W.E.B Du Bois suggesting as Valerie Boyd tells us in her “She Was The Party” essay “a cemetery for the illustrious Negro dead […] Let no Negro celebrity, no matter what financial condition they might be in at death, lie in inconspicuous forgetfulness”.
It didn’t happen.
Sitting together at a festival in that other south, South Africa a fellow poet and I thought of this exact …predicament quite a few years ago. We had just learned that a celebrated and much loved female musician, for all intents and purposes, had just died on stage far away from home because at her age and after all her brilliant and hard work – factor in rapacious contracts scribbled by shysters- she still needed to work. At this point her talent alone was never going to be enough.
Back to Hurston, thirteen years later, in the year 1973 Boyd tells us that ‘a young writer named Alice Walker traveled to Fort Pierce to place a marker on the grave of the author who had so inspired her own work’ on it she places the words,
“Zora Neale Hurston: A Genius of the South”