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Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston (2003)

by Valerie Boyd

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364269,586 (4.43)22
Traces the career of the influential African-American writer, citing the historical backdrop of her life and work while considering her relationships with and influences on top literary, intellectual, and artistic figures.

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I’ve always loved to read about strong female characters. And even though Zora Neale Hurston was a real human being, she was also a character. She was everything I admire in a person; she was tough, strong, determined, and cared about what mattered in life.

Nothing about Hurston was average. Raised in the all-Black Florida town of Eatonville until her mother died when Hurston was 13, she was forced to take care of herself after age 15. Nevertheless, she managed to survive and earned high school and college diplomas. The latter is from Barnard, an all-White college, after she attended the esteemed Howard University in D.C. All this is unusual and impressive for the time. She was a respected member of the Harlem Renaissance. But the most notable thing about Hurston was her intellect. She was a genius.

Valerie Boyd took the facts of Hurston’s life, digging deep and wide, to uncover a complex woman. Like any of us, Hurston wasn’t perfect. In a fit of temper, she almost killed her stepmother. Boyd also discloses that once in her career, she was guilty of plagiarism. And she spent most of her life lying about her age.

But the good far outweighed the bad. Hurston was fearless. She toured the American South, Jamaica and Haiti, alone, collecting material from the Black populations for valued contributions to anthropology. While studying conjure in New Orleans and Haiti, she delved deep into Hoodoo and Voodoo. Her contributions have been unparalleled. Then there are her novels, like Jonah’s Goardvine, Moses, Man of the Mountain, and Their Eyes Were Watching God. She was also heavily involved in theater.

Boyd’s writing style keeps the pages turning. I enjoyed every chapter. Zora Neale Huston was an irrepressible woman who should serve as an inspiration for anyone, male or female, young or old. I enjoyed the work every bit as much as a novel. Because of this, I recommend it to everyone. ( )
  Library_Lin | Sep 27, 2022 |
Like other reviewers, I found this book impossible to put down. Boyd's biography of Zora Neale Hurston beautifully represents Hurston in all her complexity: novelist, playwright, anthropologist, folklorist, raconteur, individualist. Hurston emerges as an flawed, deeply gifted, experienced woman who lived her life according to her own terms, in the midst of societal constraints that limited her financial resources, but never her autonomy.

Valerie Boyd mentions that one of her goals in writing this biography was to have Zora Neale Hurston's voice come alive. Through extensive quotations from Hurston's letters and other sources, she accomplishes that, and more. The biography provides a rich depiction of Hurston's life through her eyes and the eyes of her friends, associates, and (sometimes) enemies. Wrapped in Rainbows also provides illuminating contextual information, particularly about the Harlem Renaissance, African American cultural politics, the Depression, and life in the 20th-century South. Boyd provides detailed discussions of Hurston's short stories, plays, novels, and anthropological/folklore texts, including a careful reading of Hurston's autobiography [b:Dust Tracks on a Road|58399|Dust Tracks on a Road|Zora Neale Hurston|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1266461829s/58399.jpg|940516] against the politics of publishing and Hurston's own motivations in masking some parts of her life.

Boyd reveals in detail how difficult Hurston's life was, as she struggled to support herself solely through her writing, a feat that few other African American writers could replicate at the time. She also develops a clear discussion of the complex differences between Hurston and other black writers of the Harlem Renaissance and after, who questioned Hurston's commitment to racial equality because of her refusal to write fiction with an overt political message. A triumph of the biography is that Boyd represents Hurston with all her flaws and all her gifts - Hurston emerges clearly as an individual who deserves our respect for her commitment to honoring her gifts and living her life on her own terms. Through her humor, her humanity, her energy and her love of life, Hurston drew around her a circle of friends and admirers; in many ways, Boyd's biography creates one last party for Hurston to shine in. ( )
1 vote KrisR | Mar 30, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Boyd, Valerieprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ferreira, AndreaPhotographersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Joh, ColinDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rivera, Alex M.Photographersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Villanueva, Victor JohnCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I have been in Sorrow's kitchen and licked out all the pots.  Then I have stood on the peaky mountain wrapped in rainbows, with a harp and a sword in my hands.

--Zora Neale Hurston, 1891-1960
To Zora Neale Hurston, for choosing me.
To Gurumayi Childvilasananda, my spiritual teacher for illuminating every step like the rays of the sun.
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There was never quite enough for Zora Neale Hurston in the world she grew up in, so she made up whatever she needed.
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Traces the career of the influential African-American writer, citing the historical backdrop of her life and work while considering her relationships with and influences on top literary, intellectual, and artistic figures.

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