Zora Neale Hurston was born in 1901 in Eatonville, Fla. She left home at the age of 17, finished high school in Baltimore, and went on to study at Howard University, Barnard College, and Columbia University before becoming one of the most prolific writers in the Harlem Renaissance. Her works included novels, essays, plays, and studies in folklore and anthropology. Her most productive years were the 1930s and early 1940s. It was during those years that she wrote her autobiography Dust Tracks on a Road, worked with the Federal Writers Project in Florida, received a Guggenheim fellowship, and wrote four novels. She is most remembered for her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, published in 1937. She died penniless and in obscurity in 1960 and was buried in an unmarked grave. In 1973, her grave was rediscovered and marked and her novels and autobiography have since been reprinted.
Henry Louis Gates was born on September 16, 1950, in Keyser, West Virginia. A respected scholar in African American Studies, Gates graduated from Yale and Cambridge universities. A visit to Africa during the 1970s further developed his interest in African American literature and culture and helped him expand his theories. He is responsible for rediscovering and reviving many writings by black authors, and his goal is to restore the role of black literature in its proper context. He has written numerous historical books including Colored People: A Memoir, A Chronology of African-American History, and The Future of the Race. Gates also has his critics; his appearance at the obscenity trial of the rap group 2 Live Crew was seen as flagrantly self-advancing, and he has been accused of being overly Afrocentric. Nevertheless, his reputation as a scholar is well-deserved. Not only has he taught at Harvard, Yale, Duke, and Cornell, but he has been awarded many honors, including the highly coveted MacArthur Foundation "genius grant."
Edwidge Danticat was born in Haiti in 1969 and came to America at age twelve to live with her parents in Brooklyn. She studied French literature at Barnard College and received her M.F.A. from Brown University. Her work has achieved both popular and critical acclaim. Breath, Eyes, Memory (1994), her first novel and master's thesis, garnered Danticat a Granta Regional Award for Best Young American Novelist and was chosen as an Oprah Book Club selection, a singular honor. Her collection of short stories Krik? Krak! (1995) was nominated for the National Book Award. Along with awards for fiction from Seventeen and Essence and the 1995 Pushcart Short Story Prize, Danticat was chosen by Harper's Bazaar as "one of 20 people in their twenties who will make a difference," and by the New York Times Magazine as one of "30 Under 30" people to watch. Her second novel, The Farming of Bones (1998), concerns a massacre in Haiti in 1937.