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Zora and Langston: A Story of Friendship and Betrayal

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  317 ratings  ·  79 reviews
Zora Neale Hurston (Their Eyes Were Watching God) and Langston Hughes (“The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” “Let America Be America Again”) were collaborators, literary gadflies, and close companions. They traveled together in Hurston’s dilapidated car through the rural South collecting folklore, worked on the play Mule Bone, and wrote scores of loving letters to each other. They ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published March 26th 2019 by W. W. Norton Company
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Average rating 3.68  · 
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Emma Eisenberg
Apr 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
What a rich and complicated book, modern and lovely and wise. I learned so much, I became enraged and confused--Godmother! why??!!--and I hurt for these two people who were so much for each other and could have been so much more. I wish it had been less faithful to chronology and more character/narrative-driven, but that's just what floats my boat
Feb 13, 2020 rated it really liked it

Zora and Langston by Yuval Taylor gets 4/5 stars. Things got bogged down in the details near the book’s end and disrupted the flow. Miscommunications and letters crossing in the mail made the story difficult to follow. Overall, I enjoyed this gossipy read. Several reviewers commented that Taylor’s book is nothing more than a term paper on the topic, taken generously from other sources. It is a cursory look, but I’m fine with that. I’m not writing a dissertation or trying to be a historian. If th
I am embarrassed to admit that I have read very little of the works of either writers who are the subject of this book. But having read it, I am committed to delving into that pool.

I don't believe I have the right to comment much further on this until I have a better grasp on my own of each author's platform (which always changes through time) as they wrote, and what were their messages and purpose of art.

That said, there are some slightly creepy aspects of their relationship. . .but many relat
Dec 16, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: audio, overdrive
There is such a thing as doing too much research. The book has more details about irrelevant events than I cared to know. The play dispute that led to their break is truly boring.
Jun 18, 2019 rated it liked it
The book provides great context for the work of Zora and Langston and how their friendship, and their shared link to Charlotte Mason, influenced their art. The book touches a great deal on the role of white philanthropy as both a boost for these prominent authors (in terms of financial stability, networks, and platforms) and also as an inconvenient harness that constrained their artistic freedom and expression.

With that said, I spent half of the book cringing. Learning of the great lengths that
Whit Frazier
Feb 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Yuval Taylor's "Zora and Langston" is a fast-paced, engaging account of the friendship between Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, as well as their eventual "falling out." The book begins with the meeting of these two extraordinary individuals, and then follows their friendship all the way through the drafting of the play "Mule Bone," the writing of which would ultimately lead to the end of their friendship. Along the way Taylor introduces us to important luminaries, such as Louise Thompson, ...more
Jul 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
I think this is a well researched piece of writing that gives great insight to a friendship between two of the great writers during the period defined as the Harlem Renaissance. To pull together a cohesive story from interviews and
correspondence to create a book length narrative that is filled with book references and a host of characters prominent and obscure, is no small feat.

The patron, Charlotte Osgood Mason played an oversized role in both Zora and Langston’s life, and her meddling ways hel
May 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
The Collabo Fallout

I read other reviews where some thought that this book was too scholarly. Well, for one, it was well-researched, including the author re-tracing the trip Zora and Langston took through the South. Secondly, there were several words I had to use google to get the definition. However! I thought the story of their relationship and their relationships with others was absolutely fascinating!

Their relationship status went from ride-or-die: “Langston was not just Zora’s best friend,
Dec 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This was so juicy and gossipy I couldn't put it down. It took these amazingly large figures in Black history and culture and showed so many sides of them and their relationships and desires. Sometimes letter by letter, day by day accounts of shifting goals, desires, and emotions.

Also, this was the saddest love story I've ever read. The tragedy of never seeing the potential of Mulebone in their lifetimes is one thing. The love and loss of their friendship, played out over letters, articles, essay
Oct 05, 2019 rated it really liked it

Interesting telling of what caused the rift between Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes. Entertaining and informative.
Jul 06, 2020 rated it liked it
I think this book did a good job of pointing out the variety within the Harlem Renaissance, the debates among artists even as all of them were looking for authentic artistic expression as well as demonstrating pride in African and African American culture and civilization. Some were looking to separate themselves from and challenge the white world and white standards and others, like Hurston and Hughes at the time the book examines, were looking to cultivate the so-called "primitive" and specifi ...more
Aug 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Well written, well researched and filled with lots of information not only about Zora and Langston but also the Harlem Renaissance as a whole. These two extremely talented artists enjoyed a brief but mutual admiration and friendship.

Their fallout seemed to have so many outside factors involved including jealousy and the interfering 'Godmother' butting in and pitting them against one another. It was clear though that at one point they had a lot of love and respect for one another and their work.
This book was...intense. I was glad to learn more about these two literary legends and their circle of friends; it also fleshed out the loathsome personage of Charlotte Osgood Mason, who I was previously a bit familiar with from having read Hurston's solo works. A huge undercurrent of this book for me was "watch whiteness work," because it was the narcissistic machinations of their white supremacist wealthy patron Osgood that ultimately destroyed Hughes and Hurstons' friendship, although I don't ...more
Jun 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
This should be called Charlotte & Zora & Langston as the book devotes roughly the same amount of pages to Hurston and Hughes’ relationship with their patron, Charlotte Mason. ...more
Jun 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2020
IQ "I tried for a long time to bring the subject up with you, but I couldn't. I just kept trying to make a joke of it to myself, but somehow the sentences in my mind wouldn't laugh themselves off." (Zora, 197)

I was the ideal reader for this book I think because I had never read either a memoir or biography about either of the legendary writers. Each of the writers is written about both individually and in relation to each other which provides a satisfying conclusion to the book where we see the
Courtney Lawery
Oct 07, 2020 rated it liked it
It was very interesting to see the direction that this book was going in. It started kind of dry, but I believe that the narrator gets to the point of making readers feel like they have traveled back in time. There is enough from the letters and the extensive research to really make the reader feel like they have been transported back to the time, this era.

I was always curious about how Zora, who died in poverty, would have had any money to even get "There Eyes Were Watching God" into publicatio
Karen Ashmore
Jul 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Fascinating account of the complicated relationship between Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, culminating in the controversy of who really authored the play Mule Bone, which resulted in the end of their friendship and split the loyalties of the Harlem Renaissance artists. Because they were the two leading writers of the Harlem Renaissance, you also get a good depiction of the history of the Harlem Renaissance.
Nov 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Well researched biography of a friendship and collaboration between two great writers. The betrayal was fostered by the times when many "black" artists were dependent on "white" patronage.
Gail Nyoka
Apr 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Well researched and interesting. There's lots I didn't know about the characters in the Harlem Renaissance, and about the people who funded some of the work.
Mar 31, 2019 rated it liked it
More like 3.5. A solid historical reference to the "beef" that created a rift between two of the most revered voices of the Harlem Renaissance. But the asides/inserts tended to make me think it would've been stronger without some personal takes/thoughts on the matter. Regardless a fairly quick read and definitely a beneficial resource for those with interest in these two authors and the overall Harlem Renaissance discussions and output of work.
Jun 01, 2019 rated it liked it
Interesting story, boringly told.
Cortland Bell
Jul 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
The overall drama of the story played out perfectly. Although, the support of the story became repetitive, it did point me in the direction of other great text. It still was a solid story about two of greatest artist to ever live.
Jun 20, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Both Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes are as talented as you thought they were, but neither was as admirable as we want them to be. This review could easily become an academic paper since literature is pretty much my jam but I'll try to keep it to two of the most interesting topics I learned most about: primitivism and patronage.

At the beginning of their careers, both Zora and Langston deliberately ignored peer pressure from other Black authors to make their work more sophisticated, mainst
Melissa Luna
Sep 10, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir-biography
I did really enjoy learning more about the historical context for the friendship and careers of Langston and (especially) Zora, right at the height of the Harlem Renaissance. It filled in a lot of gaps for me. However, at a certain point it felt like I was reading a celebrity gossip rag. That is the reason for the three stars, even though I did genuinely enjoy it and felt it was well-researched and decently written.
Miko Lee
Aug 19, 2019 rated it it was ok
If you love Love Love Zora and Langston then this book is for you. I am a huge fan of both and have read all of their works. This book goes over their relationship but feels more like a thesis instead of a lovely historical world to sink into.
Nov 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
The Decade: the 1920s, a historical period defined as the Harlem Renaissance. The Principal Characters: Zora Hurston and Langston Hughes, “the first great American writers who implicitly claimed that their work was purely black.” [p243] Book focuses on the great collaboration between the two and their later devastating rift. Zora, though later known for her novels, at first she and Langston collaborated on playwriting. They traveled together throughout the backwoods South in Zora's Nash coupe on ...more
Colin Cox
Aug 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes shared many passions and convictions. Like many writers, poets, and artists, they wanted autonomy to work how and when they pleased, and they sought ownership of the work they produced, something their patron Charlotte Osgood Mason too often curtailed. They also shared a vision of what African American literature should be. As Yuval Taylor writes in Zora and Langston, "They helped to keep the most vital strands of it (African American literature) separate b ...more
May 26, 2019 rated it liked it
Taylor traces Zora Neale Hurston’s and Langston Hughes’ intersecting, but usually independent literary careers as well as their intense but doomed friendship with both chronological clarity and critical interpretation. They were pillars of the Harlem Renaissance and protégés of a wealthy, narrow minded patron whose limited view of African American life shaped the direction of their work, at least while she was supporting them. They inspired each other, collaborated and supported each other as th ...more
Matilda Regina
Oct 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a compelling read, although there's a certain "Inside Edition" feel to it at times. I don't say that because it's salacious (if anything, the author skates right over a lot of the sex, drugs, and hot jazz, because it's not his main interest), but because there's a lot of "clickbait" writing in the early chapters and some "teasing" of things along the way, and the "explosive" truth never quite lands. For example, Alain Locke is built up as quite the villain from early on, and though he do ...more
David Gillespie
Apr 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book details the friendship and eventual bitter rivalry between two titans of the Harlem Renaissance, Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes. Author Yuval Taylor provides a lot of insight into the inner machinations of that artistic movement, and in particular how Hurston and Hughes fit into that scene. Taylor also does a creditable effort in detailing both principals in all of their flaws and imperfections, but also capturing their humanity and the beauty of the art they produced both sepa ...more
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Yuval Taylor, whose books include Faking It, I Was Born a Slave, The Cartoon Music Book, and The Future of Jazz, lives in Chicago.

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