From critically acclaimed journalist Valerie Boyd comes an eloquent profile of one of the most intriguing cultural figures of the twentieth century—Zora Neale Hurston.
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.
Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston Discussion Points 1. Valerie Boyd's Wrapped in Rainbows describes Zora Neale Hurston's early years as an imaginative young girl. What were some of the ways in which the young Zora was able to hone her talents for creativity and art within the confines set by an irascible father? How did Hurston view her father and her mother as she grew toward adulthood? 2. What were the different dreams that Zora had as a youngster, and how did they compare with reality? What was the significance of them in her life, her writing, and her interaction with others? 3. Zora Neale Hurston viewed education as a stepping-stone to greater opportunities. Who were some of the people she encountered who assisted her in her pursuit of higher education? Why, later in her academic and research career, was she drawn to anthropology as well as to literature? How was her work interdisciplinary, combining the scientific and the creative? 4. When Hurston arrived in New York during the Harlem Renaissance, she seemed to be in the right place at the right time. What significant events took place that ushered Zora Neale Hurston into the black intelligentsia, allowing her to work with so many talented black artists during the 1920s? 5. Having grown up in the all-black southern town of Eatonville, Florida, Hurston reacted differently to racism than black Americans raised elsewhere. How did this manifest itself in her writings? In her interactions with her white publishers and financial supporters? How did her critics and peers, both black and white, view her attitudes toward race? 6. Why did Zora have a continued romantic interest in younger men, and how did others react to this flipping of stereotypical gender roles? Why didn't she remain in any marriage for an extended period of time? Were issues of control and insecurity at play? 7. For a number of years, Hurston enjoyed a very close friendship with fellow writer Langston Hughes. However, a dispute over a collaborative project, Mule Bone, severed this relationship. Give examples of how this could have possibly affected Hurston's future work with other collaborators on potential literary and research projects. 8. The author indicates that Hurston was a fierce advocate of individualism. How does this personal ideology refute or support Hurston's interest in everyday black folks and the black working class? 9. In what ways was Zora Neale Hurston a pioneer in black literature? Was she able to make a living from her writing? Give examples of how she maintained enough freedom and flexibility in her life to be a creative, working writer. 10. Who are some of the current black female writers who consider Hurston to be an inspiration and ancestral mentor in her creativity, struggles, and persistence? Indicate some examples of how these authors utilize the memory of Hurston in their own work. 11. Why and how did Zora Neale Hurston become a staple in the American literary canon? Who do you suppose was her primary audience at the height of her publishing career and why? Discuss who you think are her current audiences and why.
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.