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Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurstonby Valerie Boyd
2003 Southern Book Award in Nonfiction
Synopses & Reviews
A woman of enormous talent, remarkable drive, and rare intellectual prowess, Zora Neale Hurston published four novels, two books of folklore, an autobiography, many short stories, and several articles and plays over a career that spanned more than thirty years. Although she enjoyed some popularity during her lifetime, her greatest acclaim has come posthumously. All of her books were out of print when she died in poverty in 1960, but today nearly every black woman writer of significance — including Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker — acknowledges Hurston as a literary foremother. And her masterpiece, Their Eyes Were Watching God, has become a crucial part of the American literary canon. Yet, despite the recent renewed interest in Hurston's work, she remains, as a friend and contemporary described her, "a woman half in shadow."
Wrapped in Rainbows — the first biography of Zora Neale Hurston in twenty-five years — illuminates the complexities of an extraordinary life. Born in Alabama in 1891, Hurston moved with her family to Eatonville, Florida, when she was still a toddler. In this close-knit community — the first incorporated all-black town in America — she spent a pleasant childhood, happily imbibing the rich language and folk culture of the rural black South. When Hurston was still a girl, her mother died, and her father's swift remarriage led to the family's dispersal. Hurston spent the next decade wandering in search of parental figures, working menial jobs, and charting her own course into adulthood. Reinventing herself at the age of twenty-six, she entered high school in Baltimore by claiming to be ten years younger — a fiction she would maintain throughout her life. Hurston went on to attend Howard University and Barnard College, and during this time launched her writing career in the midst of the blossoming Harlem Renaissance. In New York, she developed relationships with luminaries such as Langston Hughes, Ethel Waters, Fannie Hurst, and Carl Van Vechten. Hurston periodically left New York to travel the country (and the world) collecting black music, poetry, and literature — becoming one of the most important folklore collectors of her time, as well as one of the most enduring writers of her century.
Wrapped in Rainbows presents a full picture of Hurston as both a writer and a woman, shedding new light on her public and private lives. Drawing on meticulous research and a wealth of crucial information that has emerged over the past twenty years, Valerie Boyd delves into Hurston's thirst for the limelight, her sexuality and short-lived marriages, her mysterious relationship with Vodou, and her occasionally controversial political views. With the Harlem Renaissance, the Great Depression, and World War II as historical backdrops, Wrapped in Rainbows not only positions Hurston's work in her time but offers implications for our own.
Featuring more than thirty-five black-and-white photographs — including some that have never been published — Wrapped in Rainbows is an eloquent profile of one of the most intriguing cultural figures of the twentieth century.
"[D]efinitive....[Puts] into perspective Hurston's considerable achievements both as a literary figure and as a social scientist. Brings one of the most pivotal figures in 20th-century literature brilliantly to life." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"[An] engrossing cornerstone biography....Hurston emerges in all her splendor — not only smarter, tougher, and more dazzlingly alive than most people but also free, gloriously and resoundingly free." Donna Seaman, Booklist (Starred Review)
"[S]umptuous...the consummate examination of the writer's flamboyant life....Boyd delivers what Hurston, one of America's great writers, has long needed and deserved — an elegant and exhilarating biography." Rene E. Graham, The Boston Globe
"[H]ugely satisfying....With loving regard and agile scholarship, Boyd fills the gaps in an exhilarating life." O, The Oprah Magazine
"Scrupulously researched, gracefully written, Wrapped in Rainbows will most likely remain the definitive Hurston biography for many years to come." The Washington Post
"Boyd is too laudatory in her approach, but this is a convincing attempt to make sense of a life that continues to defy categorization." The New Yorker
"It is interesting reading, but the heavy dependence on Dust Tracks on a Road, in particular, undercuts the authority of Boyd's book as a definitive biography because its 'facts' are suspect." Ann duCille, The New York Times Book Review
"The research and interpretation of events is breathtaking, the writing precise and beautiful. The book takes such a warm, honest, all-encompassing and wise view of its subject, that I read it from start to finish as though reading an adventure tale, which of course it is....Offering vivid splashes of Zora's colorful humor, daring individualism and refreshing insouciance, Boyd has done justice to a dauntless spirit and a heroic life." Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple
"Much like its formidable subject, the incomparable Zora Neale Hurston, this biography is gorgeous, epic, larger than life, and like Ms. Hurston's own work is a momentous treasure, not to be missed." Edwidge Danticat, author of Breath, Eyes, Memory
"Valerie Boyd has written a superb biography of a fascinating and complex writer. She brings Zora to life, and portrays her in all of her complexity and bodaciousness." Robert E. Hemenway, chancellor, University of Kansas, and author of Zora Neale Hurston
"Valerie Boyd has paid to Zora Neale Hurston the tribute and the service that any writer — any human being — might dream of getting: the enormous and patient care that, alone, produce both a truthful record and final understanding. Sad as much of its story is, Wrapped in Rainbows is finally exultant." Reynolds Price, author of Kate Vaiden
With the Harlem Renaissance, the Great Depression, and World War II as the historical backdrops, this riveting biography not only positions Hurston's work in her time, but offers implications for our own. Wrapped in Rainbows is a compelling profile of one of the most intrepid and inspiring writers of the 20th century.
A woman of enormous talent and remarkable drive, Zora Neale Hurston published seven books, many short stories, and several articles and plays over a career that spanned more than thirty years. Today, nearly every black woman writer of significance — including Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker — acknowledges Hurston as a literary foremother, and her 1937 masterpiece Their Eyes Were Watching God has become a crucial part of the modern literary canon.
Wrapped in Rainbows, the first biography of Zora Neale Hurston in more than twenty-five years, illuminates the adventures, complexities, and sorrows of an extraordinary life. Acclaimed journalist Valerie Boyd delves into Hurston's history — her youth in the country's first incorporated all-black town, her friendships with luminaries such as Langston Hughes, her sexuality and short-lived marriages, and her mysterious relationship with vodou. With the Harlem Renaissance, the Great Depression, and World War II as historical backdrops, Wrapped in Rainbows not only positions Hurston's work in her time but also offers riveting implications for our own.
About the Author
Valerie Boyd is arts editor at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Her articles, essays, and reviews have appeared in Book, Ms., The Oxford American, The Washington Post, and African-American Review. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
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