“After finishing Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston I wondered which of three words best described it: magnificent, extraordinary or masterpiece. 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. Zora’s life was a mammoth adventure, and it is on this journey that Boyd, as if born to do so, takes us. However, as I was sifting through superlatives I was visited by a voice that sounded very much like Zora’s. That voice dismissed all concern about the praise-song I was planning and seemed content (profoundly content) with just one thought: My name is in my daughters’ hands, it said.

“This daughter, Valerie Boyd, has written a biography of Zora Neale Hurston that will be the standard for years to come. 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


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.


Critical Acclaim


 “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 Hemenway, author of Zora Neale Hurston: A Literary Biography


“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


“Scrupulously researched, gracefully written, Wrapped in Rainbows will most likely remain the definitive Hurston biography for many years to come.” The Washington Post


“[Boyd’s] biography demonstrates the critical role that letters, family papers, census records, marriage certificates and court documents can play in excavating buried lives. The research is painstaking and thorough.” The New York Times


“[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.” The Boston Globe


“Boyd paints [a] stunning portrait of Hurston…in prose dazzlingly powerful, intellectually rigorous and passionately poignant.” The Philadelphia Inquirer


“Hugely satisfying…With loving regard and agile scholarship, Boyd fills the gaps in [Hurston’s] exhilarating life.” O, The Oprah Magazine


“[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


“Boyd achieves something rare and remarkable, which is to produce a biography that is at once sound in its scholarship and luminous in its language. That she has accomplished this with such a complex and difficult subject is simply awe-inspiring.” Black Issues Book Review


“[T]he most accurate portrait of Zora Neale Hurston’s colorful life to date.” Essence


“[Hurston's] life has been lovingly and carefully retold in . . . a felicitously readable format that will bring the general reader, and give those who have never heard of Hurston, a clear sense of her fascinating life and necessary work.” The Chicago Tribune


“[Boyd] not only reveals much of the carefully concealed facts of Hurston’s life but comes to original conclusions through not only persistent research but acute critical insight . . . and in consequence we are in her debt.” The Washington Times


“[A] gripping tale. . . Boyd tells Hurston’s life story with a detective’s determination to uncover the truth.” The Cleveland Plain Dealer


“[A] significant new biography. . . [that] resurrects Hurston in all her color and vitality and zaniness—as well as in her failures and sorrows…. A rich, rich read.” The Denver Post


“Hurston comes through vividly. . . . [Boyd] does a great service.” The Seattle Times


“[An] engrossing cornerstone biography . . . Boyd adeptly and passionately analyzes Hurston’s revolutionary books, intense spirituality, and myriad adventures.” Booklist


“Boyd’s extensive biography brings [Hurston] to life…a new perspective on the life of a major literary figure.” New York Daily News


“Boyd’s meticulously detailed, beautifully written account will no doubt stand as the definitive biography of Zora Neale Hurston for decades to come.” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution