Without the help and money from her father, Hurston struggled to finish schooling. She worked as a maid for the lead singer of Gilbert and Sullivan theatrical company. At age 26, Hurston still had not finished high school. In 1917, she began attending a free high school in Baltimore, Maryland where she claimed her date of birth was 1901, making her 16 years old. Lucky for her, she had the looks and personality to pull it off. Hurston was also known to have “a fiery intellect, an infectious sense of humor, and ‘the gift of walking into hearts,’ as one friend put it. Her talents paved her way into the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s, meeting the likes of famous poets such as Langston Hughes and popular singer Ethel Waters. During this time Hurston wrote her short story “Spunk,” which was selected into an anthology of African American art and literature that included Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, and Claude McKay. Hurston attended Barnard College through scholarship. Being the only black student at the school during that time, she graduated with a B. A. in Anthropology in 1927. By 1935, she published several short stories, novels, and folklore.
In the late 1930’s she published one of her greatest works, Their Eyes Were Watching God, which was about a proud and independent black woman. In the following years, Hurston published a number of her works; Tell My Horse about Caribbean voodoo practices, and Moses, Man of the Mountain, to name a few. Being recognized as a key member of New York’s Harlem Renaissance was a huge period in Hurston’s life. The Harlem Renaissance was a period where African American artists broke with the traditional dialectal works and imitating hite writers to explore black culture and express pride in their race. This was expressed in literature, music, art, and other forms of artistic expression. Hurston and her stories about Eatonville became a major force in shaping these ideals. This was most noted in her short story, “How It Feels to Be Colored Me” where she discusses her identity growing up in the town of Eatonville, Florida, which was exclusively a colored town. Hurston begins the story by describing her experiences in Eatonville. Greeting her neighbors and singing and dancing in the streets as.
She explains that when white tourists would pass by, they would ask her to “speak pieces and sing and dance the parse-me-la. ” She recalls them generously giving her small silver for doing those things. In Eatonville, she is was known as “everybody’s Zora,” referring to the fact that she was part of a whole community, not divided by race. In essence, her story is unlike others in her time. Instead of writing an essay on racial inequality, Hurston writes about her own uniqueness as a person and her ability to identify herself in the world.
She explains this when she says, “I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. ” Looking past her ancestry and racial background, Hurston strives to live life to her fullest. The positive tone and nature of this short story is what separates this work from others. Hurston could have talked about the discrimination and hatred towards her colored skin through complaints and arguments. Instead she embraces her existence in the world when she says, “At certain times I have no race, I am me. Though she may be different in color, Hurston does not consider it a disadvantage. By saying, “I am me” she is stating the fact that race is no factor in achieving her goals. This also further explains why she chose the title of the story, “How It Feels to Be Colored Me. ” Pride in her individuality is what makes Hurston a special person and such a significant writer of our time. At the end of the story, Hurston compares herself to a “brown bag stuffed with miscellany things”. Through metaphor she compares people to different colored bags that contained bits of objects.
If emptied into a large pile and re-stuffed, nothing would be much altered; suggesting that people of other races are essentially of the same human character. Hurston concludes the story by stating that “the Great Stuffer of Bags,” the Creator of life, may have fashioned people in this way from the very beginning of time. The significance of Hurston and this story in literature lies in her style of writing, positive attitude, and overall message. She furthers herself from writing about politics and instead writes from her own thoughts and feelings about life.