Zora Neale Hurston began working for the Florida division of the Work Projects Administration (WPA) in Florida in the late 1930s. She signed on for the position of Junior Interviewer with the Federal Writers' Project (FWP). At the time, Hurston had already published Jonah's Gourd Vine and Mules and Men and was the only widely published author on the Florida payroll.

Gabriel Brown playing guitar as Rochelle French and Zora Neale Hurston listen: Eatonville, Florida (1935)

Gabriel Brown playing guitar as Rochelle French and Zora Neale Hurston listen: Eatonville, Florida (1935)

Image number: FA0514

L to R: Hurston, French, Brown.

Hurston worked for the WPA, collecting folklife and folklore from Floridians throughout the state. She is pictured here collecting music from French and Brown. Photograph was part of a 1985 traveling exhibit called "Pursuits and Pastimes." Reproduced from the collection of the Library of Congress.

Portrait of Zora Neale Hurston: Eatonville, Florida (19--)

Portrait of Zora Neale Hurston: Eatonville, Florida (19--)

Image number: RC10403

Portrait of Zora Neale Hurston: Eatonville, Florida (19--)

Portrait of Zora Neale Hurston: Eatonville, Florida (19--)

Image number: RC02554

Eatonville

Working out of her Eatonville home, Hurston finished her fifth novel, Moses: Man of the Mountain, while making numerous folklife collecting trips across Florida. Hurston never mentioned her work with the FWP in her autobiography, perhaps because of the stigma associated with the WPA's relief programs.

Hungerford Normal and Industrial School, J.H. Alfred Cluett Hall (191-?)

Hungerford Normal and Industrial School, J.H. Alfred Cluett Hall: Eatonville, Florida (191-?)

Image number: PR02888

Sawmill of the Robert Hungerford Normal and Industrial School (19--)

Sawmill of the Robert Hungerford Normal and Industrial School: Eatonville, Florida (19--)

Image number: PR02887

View of the Robert Hungerford Normal and Industrial School campus: Eatonville, Florida (19--)

View of the Robert Hungerford Normal and Industrial School campus: Eatonville, Florida (19--)

Image number: PR02886

Principal's house at Robert Hungerford Normal and Industrial School: Eatonville, Florida (19--)

Principal's house at Robert Hungerford Normal and Industrial School: Eatonville, Florida (19--)

Image number: PR02885

Robert Hungerford Normal and Industrial School, Booker T. Washington Hall: Eatonville, Florida (191-?)

Robert Hungerford Normal and Industrial School, Booker T. Washington Hall: Eatonville, Florida (191-?)

Image number: PR02884

Turpentine Camps

In August of 1939, Hurston went to Cross City, Florida to interview workers of the Aycock and Lindsay turpentine camp. Material from her essay "Turpentine" later appeared in her book Seraph on the Suwanee.

Turpentine camps were isolated and known for their terrible and abusive working conditions. It was unusual for a writer to be allowed in to gather information. Hurston's essay is one of the few written, first-hand accounts of the lives of turpentine workers. Although Hurston was aware of and made notes concerning some of the abuses that occurred in the camp, her essay focuses on the workday.

Federal Writers' Project staff photographer Robert Cook accompanied the team to Cross City, but those photographs were lost before they could be preserved by the Library of Congress. These photographs of the turpentine camps are from the collections of the State Archives of Florida.

Chipping the pine tree and dipping gum on a turpentine farm (189-)

Chipping the pine tree and dipping gum on a turpentine farm (189-)

Image number: PR12636

Dipping turpentine  (189-)

Dipping turpentine (189-)

Image number: PR12607

Hacking turpentine (189-)

Hacking turpentine (189-)

Image number: PR12613

Hauling rosin (189-)

Hauling rosin (189-)

Image number: PR12610

Pulling turpentine (189-)

Pulling turpentine (189-)

Image Number: PR12609

Scraped pines for turpentine (189-)

Scraped pines for turpentine (189-)

Image Number: PR12614

Scraping a tree to make turpentine (189-)

Scraping a tree to make turpentine (189-)

Image Number: PR12608

Turpentine still (189-)

Turpentine still (189-)

Image Number: PR12612

Weighing rosin (18--?)

Weighing rosin (18--?)

Image Number: PR04334

Coopers hard at work at their shop (191-)

Coopers hard at work at their shop (191-)

Image number: N043968

Turpentine storage tanks at still (191-?)

Turpentine storage tanks at still (191-?)

Image number: N043971

Chipping a tree to make turpentine (193-)

Chipping a tree to make turpentine (193-)

Image number: PR12606

A chip paddle is being used in chipping and pulling to prevent chips and bark from falling into the cup.

Scribing a turpentine pine (193-?)

Scribing a turpentine pine (193-?)

Image number: N043956

Turpentine industry workers (193-)

Turpentine industry workers (193-)

Image number: PR12599

Turpentine industry workers (193-)

Turpentine industry workers (193-)

Image number: PR12647

Woman and children on stage at turpentine plant in Brooksville, Florida (19--)

Woman and children on stage at turpentine plant in Brooksville, Florida (19--)

Image number: PR01126

She appears to be teaching the children, but there is not a school house shown, nor desks or supplies. Sign hanging on building reads: Use more turpentine; accept no substitute. The possible location is near the turpentine factory.

Gambling for Camel cigarettes on payday (193-

Gambling for Camel cigarettes on payday (193-)

Image number: N043957

Still for making turpentine from tree resin (193-)

Still for making turpentine from tree resin (193-)

Image number: N046173

Dip testing the gum before removal from the truck: Lake City, Florida (1948)

Dip testing the gum before removal from the truck: Lake City, Florida (1948)

Image number: N043963

Photographer: Muir, B. W.

Photographed July 26, 1948.

Stetson Kennedy

From 1937 to 1942, Stetson Kennedy headed the Florida Writers' Project unit on folklore, oral history, and social-ethnic studies. Kennedy and Hurston worked together to capture the traditions, songs, tales, and anecdotes of the people of Florida. Kennedy's introduction to A Reference Guide to the Florida Foklore from the Federal WPA includes the story of the trip that he and Hurston took to the Cross City turpentine camp. His introduction mentions the essay she wrote and helps to put the piece in context.