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Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston

4.23  ·  Rating Details  ·  722 Ratings  ·  82 Reviews
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 e
Paperback, 528 pages
Published February 3rd 2004 by Scribner (first published 2002)
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Follies of God by James GrissomI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya AngelouDust Tracks on a Road by Zora Neale HurstonThe Big Sea by Langston HughesTalking at the Gates by James Campbell
Author Biographies and Memoirs
23rd out of 169 books — 50 voters
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale HurstonNative Son by Richard WrightThe Collected Poems by Langston HughesPassing by Nella LarsenThe Ways of White Folks by Langston Hughes
The Harlem Renaissance
78th out of 129 books — 38 voters

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Community Reviews

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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
Feb 26, 2011 Avigail rated it it was amazing
Shelves: barnard, biography
It has been years since I stayed up past my bedtime to read the last 100 pages of a book that I just cannot put down. Despite having studied Zora Neale Hurston's work (esp. Their Eyes Were Watching God) several times over the course of high school and college, Valerie Boyd's portrayal of the author radically expanded my knowledge and appreciation of Hurston.

In high school, I remember learning that Hurston died poor and was buried in an unmarked grave. Boyd's book made me realize how strongly thi
Mar 12, 2013 Lesley rated it really liked it
Hurston was a remarkable writer who imbued every word with her own lively, incandescent spirit. Would that one could say the same for Boyd. While her research is extraordinary, ( how I long to read all those unpublished essays she discovered!) she seems to feel obliged to include every last anecdote about Hurston's eating, smoking, clothing and housekeeping habits, which makes an otherwise fascinating story somewhat difficult to wade through. However, Hurston's unquenchable genius blazes across ...more
Jun 10, 2014 Nakia rated it really liked it
4.5 stars - I absolutely loved this biography. It was extremely well-researched and rendered so passionately that it was very hard to turn away from the page. I especially enjoyed reading of Zora's time in school in Maryland, and then at Howard and Barnard; her intense friendship with Langston Hughes; her tireless work recording the ways of the "lowest among us" in the South and Caribbean; her rise to literary fame; and her ardent desire to write, direct, produce, and star in her own theatrical ...more
Feb 16, 2009 Babydoll rated it it was amazing
Being a fan of African-American classic literature, I naturally was a fan of Zora Neale Hurston's most acclaimed classic 'There Eyes Were Watching God'. After instantly falling in love with the sheer talent of Hurston in this novel, I was intrigued by the psyche of Hurston and wanted to read and learn more about this wonderful person. This book is superbly written with consistent evidence of a well-resourced biography. This book offers a plethora of information that makes the reader more persona ...more
Jan 17, 2011 Mary marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: done-reading
To be honest I wanted to read this book because I had read once that Zora Neale Hurston was a lesbian, a part of the glbt history that I am interested in. However, there is no concrete mention in this book that she is/was a lesbian.

I did however appreciate Valerie Boyd's extensive look in the life of Zora Neale Hurston. Zora was an amazing woman in my opinion. She was a strong person and had a strong personality which enabled her to make connections with certain wealthy benefactors during that t
Mar 06, 2015 Lauren rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
In some ways, this was the ideal biography experience: I knew very little about Hurston going in, so I was all the more entranced by Boyd's effective and almost novelistic retelling of her life: audible gasps were heard as Hurston's friendship with Langston Hughes slowly came apart under pressure and then again when, late in life, terrible accusations damaged her reputation and (at least temporarily) dimmed her effervescence. Hurston is a terrific subject for a biography, simultaneously famous y ...more
Gabrielle David
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I read it slowly. Valerie Boyd is a magician, she managed to capture the essence of a woman who has always been a somewhat difficult subject (much of Hurston's belongings were lost after she died) and managed to personalize her, in a genuine voice. This is a great book!
What a tremendous biography. I was first introduced to Zora Neale Hurston through I Love Myself When I’m Laughing...& Then Again When I Am Looking Mean and Impressive (A Zora Neale Hurston Reader), anthology edited by Alice Walker. Since then I’ve meant to read more of her work but always found her a bit intimidating. After reading Valerie Boyd’s biography of Zora Neale Hurston her books will definitely move up the ladder on my to be read list.

Valerie Boyd must have spent years researching h
Book Riot Community
I was obsessed with Alice Walker when I first read Zora Neale Hurston’s books, and both women/writers intrigued me with their connection to the earth, people and the word. Walker is credited with unearthing interest in Hurston in the first place, rediscovering her writing and anthropological research into black culture; and Valerie Boyd completed the story by thoroughly delving into every nook and cranny of Hurston’s life. And that’s not a light feat, as Hurston was wont to stretch the truth (i. ...more
Noemi Proietti
Mar 20, 2016 Noemi Proietti rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
A very interesting read. Before reading this book, I never heard of Zora Neale Hurston and it's a pity because she was a very interesting woman.
The writing of the book flows steadily and sometimes reads more like a fiction narrative than a biography.
Jul 14, 2009 Debra rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I don't read too many biographies, but, as Ms. Hurston is one of my favorite authors and inspired me to study anthropology, I picked this up. Ms. Boyd's work reads as easily as a novel. Zora Neale Hurston's inimitable personality shines throughout a fascinating life of highs (e.g., the Harlem Renaissance, folklore-collecting expeditions), and not-so-highs (as a maid later in life--her employer didn't even know of her literary accomplishments!). Ms. Hurston demonstrated some interesting and contr ...more
Carolyn Reed
Dec 17, 2014 Carolyn Reed rated it really liked it
Before reading about the life of Zora Neale Hurston, I admit, I was woefully ignorant of how important her work is for women in general and African American women in particular. She was complex, smart, resourceful and determined to live by her own rules. Her interest in and master of black dialect explains so much about her writings and how giving life to black stories in their own words helped to empower them when the country was in transition. Wrapped in Rainbows is worth the read for anyone w ...more
Jul 19, 2014 Lisa rated it really liked it
This book is a smooth read, very inviting - comfortable. Like listening to Billie Holiday's 'Strange Fruit' while sipping a nice port. It enabled you to walk with Zora through her life. Touched on very important times/events/people in history - Harlem Renaissance, Jim Crow, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Alain Locke... A magical time. A remarkable woman - independent, formidable, resilient, courageous. She lived her life on her terms regardless of what was going on around her. Well done Ms. Bo ...more
Jul 15, 2014 Michaela rated it really liked it
I first learned about Zora Neale Hurston in the 12th grade. My teacher wanted us to read, Their Eyes Were Watching God. As an avid reader of Dickens, Alcott sisters, Austen and other stories centered around a manners and class, I was thrown into a world that I was unfamiliar with. Hurston steeped me into a part of the south that I never heard about. She also gave me a female heroine that tackled and overcame many obstacles. Through Hurston's world I learned of love that never was, love that was ...more
Apr 06, 2015 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A wonderful bio of a great writer and fascinating person. I learned about Zora Neale Hurston because of the feminist revival of her work when I was a youngster(I read the anthology "I love myself when I am laughing, and then again when I am looking mean and impressive," edited by Alice Walker and published by the Feminist Press in 1979), and I have been an admirer ever since. Although I now realize that I have not read all her books, and must add some to my Goodreads list. I've read the novel th ...more
Jun 14, 2012 Kodiaksm rated it it was ok
I found this book too verbose. While Zora Hurston was a very interesting person, the author included too much information--it drowned in detail. I had to force myself to finish it for a book club meeting.

However,I am now interested in reading Zora Hurston's books. Previously, I had never heard of Zora Hurston--probably because my home is in the western US.

Nov 03, 2014 Jamal rated it it was amazing
zora & I went rollicking in spring courtesy of valerie boyd!!!! never have i ever been so connected to a passion as i was connected to zoras need to express her love for who we were & our culture....Easily one of the best story tellers Ive ever Read !!! I will read z forever
May 12, 2008 Wendy rated it really liked it
I read little biography. I'll admit, I'm rarely enthralled by a person's entire life, cradle to grave. Zora Neale Hurston is an exception. And this book is an exception. A lovely portrait of a complex life. It's both good research and good reading.
May 20, 2014 Max rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this biography. It is well-researched and gives us Zora Neale Hurston in her environments: the Harlem Renaissance, the Great Depression, living in Florida on a houseboat. Her work as an anthropologist is recognized here, at long last. She wasn't very successful at marriage, but she was much more successful with her friendships. For money to live, she toiled as a librarian, for $1.88 per hour, when she was 65 years old, two weeks after being a special podium guest at Bethune-Cook ...more
Feb 14, 2014 Ewurama rated it liked it
Zora Neale Hurston is one of those historic figures whom it’s easy to believe you know a good deal about—until you actually endeavor to find out more. How little I knew! I was surprised and heartened to learn that Hurston did not publish her work until age thirty-four, her first novel not appearing until after her fortieth birthday. And while I was familiar with Hurston’s literary reputation, I didn’t realize how much of her life was devoted to anthropology and marked by her deep appreciation fo ...more
Linda Robinson
Aug 11, 2009 Linda Robinson rated it it was amazing
Excellent account. Boyd is fond of her subject, did impeccable research, and got it right. Read the Laurie Leach biography of Langston Hughes, too.
Tatum Little
Sep 11, 2007 Tatum Little rated it really liked it
Zora Neale Hurston was an amazing woman. I'm not exaggerating; This book changed my life. It's well written and well researched.
Jun 29, 2008 Sarah rated it really liked it
Just read this for a conference on Hurston. Very thorough, so you'd better be a fan of Hurston to take this one on!
Apr 27, 2016 Bloodorange rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: those who teach Zora Neale Hurston
This is a very good biography, as far as I can tell, and a good resource, if you happen to teach anything by Zora Neale Hurston. While it took me a long time (in months, not pages) to get used to Boyd's style of narration (somehow it felt a little artificial, or a little too dreamy - I put it aside for two years), I later had a ball reading this, once I went past the childhood section.

Maybe it is the biographer's angle, but it strikes me how modern Hurston comes across as; unwilling to compromi
Apr 04, 2015 Joani rated it liked it
Never thought I'd ever finish this 500+ page biography (the last 60+ pages or so is the appendix). I stayed with it because I really like Hurston's writing, and I was able to glean much about her life from this biography. It is incredibly comprehensive and very detailed. I was able to finish it by focusing on what I felt was more important and skimming through the minutiae and less significant characters of Hurston's life. I gave it 3 stars because Boyd obviously did her homework with extensive ...more
Aug 05, 2013 Andrew rated it liked it
Recommends it for: some people
I felt like Valerie Boyd wasn't impartial enough when I read the book. There wasn't enough objectivity by Boyd to be frank she sounded like a groupie when I read this book. It was obvious reading this book that Boyd is a huge fan of Hurston. I was irritated because Boyd isn't being honest Zora Neale Hurston was of course a literary genius. However, Hurston was also a very complicated woman who also I feel had issues with self hatred which Boyd didn't explore enough.

However, to be a biographer, I
Sep 21, 2013 Angel rated it it was amazing
Stranded on an island, this is the one book I would have to have and could read over and over again for the rest of my life. Valerie Boyd brings Zora back to life, through her flawless ability to weave Zora's spoken words throughout the factual narrative. You feel as if you are transported back in time, walking side by side with Zora throughout her life. Though I'm not enrolled in school, I treated this book like an independent summer course in women's studies. I took my time and highlighted key ...more
Mar 30, 2016 Casey rated it really liked it
When I decided to join #wlclub, I hadn't considered that books about rad women's whole lives would be...hefty. Valerie Boyd's narrative biography of Zora Neale Hurston is 433 pages deep (if you omit the 100+ pages of notes at the end)—and so full.
I learned something on every page, whether it was about ZNH, the Harlem Renaissance, hoodoo, racism, the editorial process, lying about age, collaboration, HBCUs, or being a woman of "great verve." I am forever going to think of her when I see the
Jul 23, 2008 Eric rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: I don’t say this lightly, This aint for beginners
Shelves: black-america
So far a pretty deep look at a figure loved both by the Black Bourgeois and white liberals. Its disturbing because
while they say its about her fiesty independence, what they really are drawn too is her personal self loathing and her loathing of radical and progressive Black people.


o.k. my previous comments were much too simplistic. This women was so deep, heroic, and still disturbingly..... I don't know. This well written book was a hard read because of her complexity, love and
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Valerie Boyd is the author of Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston and the forthcoming Spirits in the Dark: The Untold Story of Black Women in Hollywood.

She is an Associate Professor and the Charlayne Hunter-Gault Distinguished Writer in Residence at the Grady College of Journalism at the University of Georgia, where she teaches magazine writing, arts reviewing and narrative nonfict
More about Valerie Boyd...

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“I shall never forget how the red ball of the sun hung on the horizon and raced along with the train for a short space,” she later wrote, “and then plunged below the belly-band of the earth. There have been other suns that set in significance for me, but that sun! It was a book-mark in the pages of a life.” While” 0 likes
“The one who makes the idols never worships them, however tenderly he might have molded the clay.” 0 likes
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