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Zora Neale Hurston

A Literary Biography
Awards and Recognition:

Winner of the Society of Midland Authors Award in Biography. Winner of the Rembert W. Patrick Memorial Prize of the Florida Historical Society.

Zora Neale Hurston - novelist, folklorist, anthropologist, and child of the rural black South - transformed each hour of her life into something bubbling, exuberant, and brimming with her joy in just being. Robert Hemenway captures the effervescence of this daughter of the Harlem Renaissance in his brilliant and original literary biography. He provides for the first time a full length study of Hurston's life and art, using unpublished letters and manuscripts and personal interviews with many who knew her.

His sensitive reconstruction of Miss Hurston's life (1901?-60) details her two marriages, her relations with her patron, Mrs. R. Osgood Mason, her mentor, Franz Boas, and her friend Langston Hughes; her indictment on a morals charge in 1948; and the sad, final years leading to her death as a penniless occupant of a Florida welfare home. But most important, his interpretation of her art and scholarship, including her extraordinary novels, autobiography, and popular treatment of black folkways, underscores her deep and abiding commitment to the black folk tradition.

The book will be welcomed as a valuable distillation of information about the novelist who published more books during her lifetime than any other black American woman, and also about the period of the twenties and thirties during which she and others of the black literati flourished.

Novelist Alice Walker's foreword is a glowing eulogy to her spiritual kinswoman. In it she unabashedly delights in the life and work of a woman who herself reveled in a full life dedicated to keeping her people's cultural heritage alive.

This book is for anthropologists, literary critics, folklorists, students of the black experience, and feminists; it is also a sophisticated and sensitive tale of interest to all those who identify with a black woman's struggle for recognition.


"Robert Hemenway's book on the literary life of Zora Neale Hurston is a major work, and one for which scholars and readers and writers will be extremely eager. They will also be grateful fot his thorough research and sensitive reconstruction of Zora's life. It is for me a great book, because it gives back to all of us something invaluable that was nearly lost: reliable information and knowledge of the life of a great writer and unique human being. It is just such a joy to know that Zora's story is in the world, at last!"--Alice Walker, poet, novelist, and Ms. editor

"An excellent literary biography of a much misunderstoon and very important black writer. Its biographical research is careful and exhaustive; its understanding of Hurston's literary, intellectual, and social context is broad, deep, and 'sympathetic' in a refreshingly uncondescending way; its literary analysis and judgments are always acute, often brilliant and original."--Keneth Kinnamon, author of The Emergence of Richard Wright and co-author of Black Writers of American

"A landmark in American literary biography, drawing from virtual obscurity a singular life marked by outstanding works of art."--Houston A. Baker, Jr., Afro-American Studies director, University of Pennsylvania, and author of Singers of Daybreak: Studies in Black American Literature

"In this fine biography, she emerges in all her complexity - charming, eccentric, a political maverick, the author of one of the best novels produced by a Harlem Renaissance writer . . . and, perhaps, the best book on black folklore available."--New York Times

"It is to Hemenway's credit that he has mastered such overwhelming material without losing the rhythmic pulse so vital to Hurston's life and writing."--Orlando Sentinel Star


Robert E. Hemenway is associate professor of English at the University of Kentucky. He has edited a memoir of the Harlem Renaissance, Taylor Gordon's Born to Be, and has published essays about black authors in such journals as the Black Scholar and the College Language Association Journal.

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