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“ I mean to live and die by my own mind,” Zora Neale Hurston told the writer Countee Cullen. Arriving in Harlem in 1925 with little more than a dollar to her name, Hurston rose to become one of the central figures of the Harlem Renaissance, only to die in obscurity. Not until the 1970s was she rediscovered by Alice Walker and other admirers. Although Hurston has entered the pantheon as one of the most influential American writers of the 20th century, the true nature of her personality has proven elusive.
Now, a brilliant, complicated and utterly arresting woman emerges from this landmark book. Carla Kaplan, a noted Hurston scholar, has found hundreds of revealing, previously unpublished letters for this definitive collection; she also provides extensive and illuminating commentary on Hurston’s life and work, as well as an annotated glossary of the organizations and personalities that were important to it.
From her enrollment at Baltimore’s Morgan Academy in 1917, to correspondence with Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Langston Hughes, Dorothy West and Alain Locke, to a final query letter to her publishers in 1959, Hurston’s spirited correspondence offers an invaluable portrait of a remarkable, irrepressible talent.
“Hurston’s reputation—and her place in the canon of truly great writers—only deepens as we encounter the complex and compelling intelligence of this astonishingly brilliant artist. In these letters, we encounter Zora Neale Hurston as if for the first time.” —Henry Louis Gates, Jr., W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of the Humanities, Harvard University
“The Hurston we revered before this book was only an illusion. Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters gives us a flesh and blood Hurston with sharp edges and dark corners and endless, enchanting layers.” —Emily Bernard, author of Remember Me to Harlem: The Letters of Langston Hughes and Carl Van Vechten, 1925-1964
“Kaplan has made the letters remarkably accessible” —The New York Times
“Captures the myriad facets of Hurston’s genius, not least as it radiated in the legendary life she crafted from humble beginnings.” —The Washington Post
“This is a wonderful addition to what we need to understand about a spirited, extraordinary life.” —Alice Walker
“[Hurston’s] letters have a freshness, humor and immediacy that make you forget how long ago they were written” —Quarterly Black Review
“Not merely a collection of letters but a comprehensive introduction to an important American writer” —Booklist
“Hurston’s letters reveal an energetic writer . . . . Beautifully executed.” –Publishers Weekly