In her twenties, Zora Neale Hurston found a group of patrons who would support her for the rest of her life. Among this group, which Hurston called the “Negrotarians”, was Barnard college founder Annie Nathan Meyer. Meyer met Hurston at an awards dinner, and by the night’s end she had offered the young writer a place at Barnard. Hurston dedicated her book, Mules and Men, to Meyer, “who hauled the mud to make me but loves me just the same.” In this letter, written in the first year of their friendship, Hurston updates Meyer on her work, mentioning some “ultra-free verse” poems that she never published.
May 12, 1925
My Dear Mrs. Meyer,
I have been waiting to hear from my request for a transcript of my record. It must be attended to by now.
I am tremendously encouraged now. My typewriter is clicking away till all hours of the night. I am striving desperately for a toe-hold on the world. You see, your interest keys me up wonderfully—I must not let you be disappointed in me.
No, no the little praise I have received does not affect me unless it be to make me work furiously. Instead of a pillow to rest upon, it is a goad to prod me. I know that I can only get into the sunlight by work and only remain there by more work. But you do help me immensely. It is pleasant to have someone for whom one thinks. It is mighty cold comfort to do things if nobody cares whether you succeed or not. It is terribly delightful to me to have someone fearing with me and hoping for me, let alone working to make some of my dreams come true.
ls Mr. Meyer improving? I hope so, truly. I am sending a bit of ultra-free verse for him to take his medicine by (weak ending). All of the Editors of Verse Magazine are panting to know who the author of this masterpiece is—but you are my friend and must not expose me. Editors are violent men.
Yes, I look forward eagerly to that brief chat with you before you go away. I say brief because you have so little time and I do not wish to tax your kindness too much. Hoping to have another letter from you, I am, Mrs. Meyer
Your grateful and obedient servant,
Zora Neale Hurston
From Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters. Edited by Carla Kaplan. New York: Random House, 2007.
Scholars discuss omissions in Hurston’s biography as well as three recently discovered short stories.
The Capital Gazette wrote a survey of the “Negrotarians” and their responsibility in championing African American literature for the first time in America.
Read an excerpt from Robert Greene’s Mastery in which he describes how Zora Neale Hurston went from housemaid to literary legend.