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Zora Neale Hurston


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About the Author

Carla Kaplan is Professor of English, Gender Studies, and American & Ethnic Studies at the University of Southern California, and a noted Hurston scholar. She is the author of The Erotics of Talk: Women's Writing and Feminist Paradigms, and the editor of Dark Symphony and Other Works, by Elizabeth Laura Adams, Every Tongue Got to Confess: Negro Folk-Tales from the Gulf States, by Zora Neale Hurston, and Nella Larsen's Passing.


Arguably one of the most significant figures in the African American literary tradition of the 20th century, Zora Neal Hurston (1891-1960) has only recently been acknowledged for her superb achievements. The author of four novels, including the highly acclaimed Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), plus an autobiography, numerous essays, and two books on black folklore, she became the first black student to graduate from Barnard College and later studied anthropology at Columbia. A principal in the Harlem Renaissance, she shared fame with her contemporaries, including Langston Hughes and Dorothy West. But recognition was limited; Hurston had to endure a string of menial jobs and died penniless and obscure. This collection of over 500 letters, chronologically arranged and carefully edited and annotated by noted Hurston scholar Kaplan, reveals a gifted yet complex personality at once humorous, cynical, and analytical. These letters to friends, editors, fellow writers, and others trace a life of humble beginnings, turmoil, and frustrations. Interest in Hurston is on the rise, as indicated by the recent publication of Every Tongue Got to Confess, a recently rediscovered collection of folklore she gathered, recommending this for all academic libraries and larger public libraries with extensive literature collections. Richard K. Burns, MSLS, Hatboro, PA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

Many of the questions that Hurston scholars have asked are addressed, and occasionally answered, in this momentous collection of letters by one of the leading figures of the Harlem Renaissance: Why did she constantly alter her age? Did she take a job as a maid toward the end of her life out of desperation or, as she claimed, for a lark? Why did she switch from writing about blacks to writing about whites? And why didn't she ever write anything about her teen years? Kaplan, a leading Hurston scholar at the University of Southern California, calls the letters "one of the few existing sources of personal commentary by a black female intellectual on American life and literature." Spanning the 1920s to the 1950s, Hurston's letters reveal an energetic writer of many voices. The collection includes confiding, sharp-tongued missives to close friends Langston Hughes and Carl Van Vechten; correspondence with Franz Boas, one of the fathers of American anthropology and Hurston's mentor at Barnard College; and her saccharine (and perhaps ironic) notes of gratitude and supplication to wealthy white patron Charlotte Osgood Mason. A portrait emerges of a heterodox woman who alienated many of her supporters with her increasingly conservative politics and was hampered all her life by financial troubles and romantic disappointments. At 864 pages, this volume contains numerous mundane letters, but it is a comprehensive document of the notoriously unself-revealing woman, beautifully executed. Illus. (On sale Oct. 1) Forecast: Given Hurston's belated prominence, this will receive major review coverage, though some reviews may be delayed to be joined with Valerie Boyd's Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston, which Scribner publishes in January. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

"An astonishingly brilliant artist . . . In these letters we encounter Zora Neale Hurston as if for the first time." --Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

"Smart, sparkling lettters . . . a fascinating collection" --O, The Oprah Magazine

"Kaplan has made the letters remarkably accessible" --The New York Times

"Not merely a collection of letters but a comprehensive introduction to an important American writer" --Booklist

"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

"The letters in Ms. Kaplan's collection tell a life story of exceptional interest." -The Wall Street Journal

"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

" [An] epic collection . . . .The arrival of these letters is like a beacon cast on Hurston's life." -Orlando Sentinel

"From her letters emerges an . . . articulate but qualitatively different voice, or better yet, chorus of voices, compounding the contradictions of an undeniably courageous life. We can finally see her . . . served up raw."

"Hurston's letters reveal an energetic writer . . . . Beautifully executed." -Publishers Weekly

"Sublime and intimate. . . . An intriguing installment in the study of Hurston's work and life." -Upscale

"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

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