How it Feels to be Colored Me


Zora Neale Hurston

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How it Feels to be Colored Me Study Guide

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Brief Biography of Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neal Hurston was born in 1891 in Alabama, although her family moved shortly afterward to the thriving African-American community of Eatonville, Florida. Passionate and willful from a young age, Hurston was in frequent conflict with her father, a preacher. After the death of her mother in 1904, family discord drove Hurston to join a traveling theater troupe. She didn’t finish high school until well into her twenties. Afterward, at Howard University, Hurston began to write and publish her first short stories. She started to attract widespread acclaim for her writing after moving to New York and linking up with several other prominent African-American writers and artists who together formed a movement called the Harlem Renaissance. While in New York, she also pursued further education in anthropology at Barnard College and made several trips to locations in the American south to study African-American history and folklore. In the ‘30s and ‘40s, Hurston published her most enduring novels, including Their Eyes Were Watching God, but she never achieved her full due of financial security and recognition.
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Historical Context of How it Feels to be Colored Me

After the Civil War, Union forces and congressional Republicans pushed to ensure a measure of financial and political agency for newly freed African-American southerners. By the 1870s, these efforts had stalled out in the face of white southern resistance and northern indifference, and white southerners filled the power vacuum with campaigns of terror against the black population. Hurston grew up in Eatonville, Florida, a successful African-American town, and so was spared the worst of this discrimination in her early childhood, but she soon encountered various forms of explicit and implicit racism as she moved to other parts of the south and then north to Baltimore and Manhattan, which in turn influenced her work. While in New York, Hurston participated in the Harlem Renaissance, which created a community of talented African-American writers and eased her entry into the New York literary world.

Other Books Related to How it Feels to be Colored Me

Zora Neale Hurston was a prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance, a flowering of art and literature in the predominantly African-American neighborhood of New York City in the 1920s and ‘30s. Hurston befriend and collaborated with many other figures in the movement, including poets Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen, whose work both celebrated and lamented the African-American experience in the early 20th century. Hurston also corresponded with W.E.B. DuBois, a towering figure for many African-American writers of the time whose essay collection The Souls of Black Folk investigates ways African-Americans navigate a racially stratified and oppressive society. Finally, Hurston’s own study of the folklore, stories, and songs of black southerners proved an enduring influence on her work, including her most famous novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God.
Key Facts about How it Feels to be Colored Me
  • Full Title: How It Feels To Be Colored Me
  • When Written: 1928
  • Where Written: Manhattan, New York
  • When Published: 1928
  • Literary Period: Harlem Renaissance
  • Genre: Personal Essay
  • Setting: Eatonville, Florida; Manhattan, New York
  • Climax: When Hurston brings a white friend to a jazz club in her black neighborhood, his drastically different response to the music highlights their racial difference in her eyes.
  • Antagonist: None
  • Point of View: 1st Person

Extra Credit for How it Feels to be Colored Me

Masquerade for Education. Hurston resolved to finish high school in Baltimore at age 26, which was too old to qualify for free public school. She posed as ten years younger to finish her education and then continued that ruse for the rest of her life.

Literary Rediscovery. Hurston’s writing gained renewed interest in the 1970s when Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker rediscovered her work. Walker even bought a headstone for Hurston’s formerly unmarked grave in Fort Pierce, Florida.