Cover for HEMENWAY: Zora Neale Hurston: A Literary Biography. Click for larger image

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.

The life and work of the iconic author and intellectual

Zora Neale Hurston transformed each hour of her life into something bubbling, exuberant, and brimming with joy. Robert Hemenway’s biography is a towering portrait of the novelist, folklorist, and anthropologist. Drawing on archival documents and interviews with people who knew her, Hemenway explores Hurston’s art and work, from her extraordinary novels and autobiography to a popular treatment of black folkways that revealed her deep commitment to the black folk tradition. He also provides a sensitive look at her two marriages; her relationships with Mrs. R. Osgood Mason, Franz Boas, and Langston Hughes; her time as a member of the black literati of the 1920s and 1930s; and the penniless final years leading to her death.

Sophisticated and original, Zora Neale Hurston tells the compelling story of a woman who reveled in a fully lived life dedicated to a lasting art and the preservation of a vital cultural heritage.


"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 for 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

"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

"Integrates zestful narrative with piercing literary criticism."--Washington Post Book World

"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

"An excellent literary biography of a much misunderstood 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

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


Robert E. Hemenway (1941-2015) was a professor of English and chancellor at the University of Kansas and held the same two positions at the University of Kentucky. He is the editor of Taylor Gordon's Born to Be.

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