When Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston was published in 2002 it was the first comprehensive biographical work on Zora Neale Hurston in more than twenty-five years, and while there were books that followed quickly behind it, Wrapped in Rainbows feels like the definitive work on its subject. I was familiar with Hurston’s life before picking this up – she hangs large in the world of Florida writers – but there was still plenty left for me to know, and nuance and details that I had yet to come across, and far from what has become the go to shorthand (that she died poor and was buried in an unmarked grave). The biography provides a rich depiction of Hurston’s life through her eyes and the eyes of her friends, associates, and sometimes enemies.
Zora Neale Hurston published seven books, many short stories, and several articles and plays over a career that spanned more than thirty years. She also lied about her age to receive free public education (passing for 16 at 26), eventually going on to Howard University. Valerie Boyd delves into all that as well as the rest of Hurston’s history, not shying away from any of the things which make Hurston who she was, but by representing Hurston in all her complexity. Hurston emerges as a woman who lived her life according to her own terms, amid societal constraints that limited her financial resources, but not her independence. Boyd engages with the complex differences between Hurston and other black writers of the Harlem Renaissance and after. Perhaps the only shortcoming of Boyd’s writing is in her objectivity as she sometimes wrote more from an admirer’s point of view, not leaving room for the possibility that Hurston’s actions or choices could have put her in the wrong.