Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters

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9780385490351: Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters

A landmark collection of more than five hundred letters written by a woman at the heart of the Harlem Renaissanc--an author who remains one of the most intriguing people in American cultural history.

Alice Walker’s 1975 Ms. magazine article "Looking for Zora" reintroduced Zora Neale Hurston to the American literary landscape, and ushered in a virtual renaissance for a writer who was a bestselling author at her peak in the 1930s, but died penniless and in obscurity some three decades later.

Since that rediscovery of novelist, anthropologist, playwright, folklorist, essayist, and poet Zora Neale Hurston, her books--from the classic love story Their Eyes Were Watching God to her controversial autobiography, Dust Tracks on the Road--have sold millions of copies. Hurston is now taught in American, African American, and women's studies courses in high schools and universities from coast to coast.

Now, in Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters, the fascinating life of one of the most enigmatic literary figures of the twentieth century comes alive. Through letters to Harlem Renaissance friends Langston Hughes, Alain Locke, Dorothy West, and Carl Van Vechten, and to bestselling author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and Fannie Hurst, among others, readers experience the exuberance and trials of Hurston’s life. Her letters to her patron, Mrs. Charlotte "Godmother" Osgood Mason, are laced with equal amounts of cynicism and reverence, and offer a fascinating glimpse of the perilously thin line Hurston tread to maintain vital monetary support as she pursued her art and avant-garde lifestyle (which included crossing the country collecting folklore, and a job as story editor at Paramount Pictures in the 1940s).

Meticulously edited and annotated, this landmark collection of letters will provide her fans, as well as those discovering Hurston for the first time, with a penetrating and profound portrait into the life, writings (four novels, a play, an autobiography, and countless essays), and impressive imagination of one of the most amazing characters to grace American letters.

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Review:

Whatever happened to Zora Neale Hurston? In the 1930s her stories, novels, folklore studies, and plays were all over the bestseller lists. By the '60s she was forgotten--a reversal of fortune captured in the extraordinary collection Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters.

Why did Hurston's star fade? Simple weariness, her correspondence suggests. She was happier, it seems, tilling her Florida garden than revealing her soul to the world. She was also not shy of crossing swords with the likes of W.E.B. Du Bois and Langston Hughes, and in a time of growing militancy and the awakening civil rights movement Hurston became increasingly conservative, developing political stances that, editor Kaplan writes, "have often baffled her admirers." Hurston developed a pen-stilling, probably ungrounded suspicion that anything she wrote would be stolen by other writers, who would "then hate me for being alive to make their pretensions out a lie. And then take all kinds of steps to head me off."

Having enjoyed early fame, Hurston died alone and in poverty. This well-assembled and very welcome book traces her sad path, and it adds much to our understanding of the once-neglected writer. --Gregory McNamee

From the Back Cover:

"Zora Neale Hurston's letters offer us nothing less than a spontaneous autobiography by one of the great writers of the twentieth century. The contradictions in her personality--of which we know from her published writings and the assessments of her critics--do not disappear, but they make sense through these passionate, revealing, sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes hilarious, and always readable letters. Carla Kaplan has annotated them thoroughly, and her head-notes, decade by decade, trace Hurston's life with the care of a good scholar and the narrative skill of a good biographer."
Bruce Kellner, author of The Harlem Renaissance: A Historical Dictionary for the Era and editor of Early Modern African American Writers

"This valuable contribution to our understanding and appreciation of Zora Neale Hurston and her times will forever shape how we think and talk about the woman and the icon. Professor Carla Kaplan has done an extraordinary job of collecting, editing and contextualizing the correspondence. Her own well-researched and well-written commentary is informative without being intrusive. The volume is destined to become a classic supporting our sense that Hurston really is one of the great minds of the twentieth century and proving that Carla Kaplan is destined to be one of the great scholars of the twenty-first century."
-Farah Jasmine Griffin, author of If You Can’t Be Free, Be a Mystery: In Search of Billie Holliday

"Carla Kaplan's Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters is a wonderful book, easily the most valuable new volume by or about Hurston in many a year. Here is Hurston in her bodacious glory--jaunty and in pain, colorful, elusive, superbly intelligent, deceptive, an orginal personality and an original mind. Kaplan's work as an editor is impeccable, her vision of Zora luminous. All lovers of Zora Neale Hurston must read this book.”
-
Arnold Rampersad, Stanford University, author of The Life of Langston Hughes (2 vols.)

"Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters is as welcome as a sun burst, which is what Zora Hurston in life was like. One of her favorite expressions was 'bodacious'. Carla Kaplan's edited collection is just that, and we should all be enormously grateful to her for gathering up the words of the incomparable ingenue of the Harelm Renaissance."
-David Levering Lewis, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning W.E.B. DuBois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century 1919-1963

"'Being different has its drawbacks,'Hurston writes in Carla Kaplan's new collection of Zora Neale Hurston's letters. Every filmmaker I know identifies with Zora's creativity, but mostly her courage. You don't have to be a woman to find comfort and understanding in Zora's words, but you will find meaning."
-Julie Dash, award-winning director of Daughters of the Dust

"Like Phoeby in Their Eyes Were Watching God, I sit on the porch listening to the storyteller. This time, the storyteller is Hurston herself who speaks to us through hundreds of letters written to over seventy different people from the time of the Harlem Renaissance to the beginnings of the Cold War. Brilliantly assembled and introduced by Carla Kaplan, the letters reveal the struggles of a black woman from the South searching for personal happiness while trying to establish a literary reputation in New York City. In the process, they weave a rich and multifaceted portrait of American and African American literature, drama, and anthropological writing of the period. The cast of characters is as vast as it is varied: it includes both blacks and whites, patrons and dependents, the famous and the infamous, the remembered and the forgotten. Like Phoeby, you will listen spellbound."
-Carla Peterson, author of Doers of the Word: African American Women Speakers and Writers in the North (1830-1880)

"This is a wonderful addition to what we need to understand about a spirited, extraordinary life."
Alice Walker

"There is no greater story of rediscovery in modern American literature than that of Zora Neale Hurston. Like Herman Melville in a previous era, she went from nearly complete obscurity to a position of unquestioned canonical importance in just a few years. This superb collection of her letters now provides us a remarkable window into Hurston's life and opinions, her evanescent career,and her relationship with many of the leading writers and intellectuals of her day."
-Eric Sundquist, UCLA Foundation Professor of Literature

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Kaplan Ph.D., Carla
Editorial: U.S.A.: Doubleday (2002)
ISBN 10: 0385490356 ISBN 13: 9780385490351
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Kaplan Ph.D., Carla
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