Black History Month Spotlight: Valerie Boyd on Zora Neale Hurston

By Paulette Beete
Headashot of a woman

Photo courtesy of Ms. Boyd.

"I first read Their Eyes Were Watching God when I was a first-year college student, and I was just amazed that somebody could have written a book in the 1930s that still spoke to me so resonantly across the decades. I was touched by the character of Janie Crawford, who as we know, is on a journey to know herself. As a 17‑year-old, first-year college student, I was just embarking on a similar journey myself. I was also very much interested in Zora Neale Hurston. As an aspiring writer, I really felt that I had found my literary grandmother of sorts. I read everything I could find by her and everything I could find about her including Robert Hemenway's 1977 biography, which was the only full-scale biography before [my book] Wrapped in Rainbows. In 1994, I heard Hemenway give a talk at the Zora Neale Hurston Festival in Eatonville [,Florida] in which he critiqued his own book and pointed out things that he felt he had missed because he was a man writing about a woman [and] because he was a white American writing about an African American. He said, "It's time for a new biography to be written, and it needs to be written by a Black woman." It was at that moment that I felt this sort of inner calling. I felt like all of my connection to Hurston had coalesced to this moment. The work sort of fell into my lap, so that's part of why I feel that she chose me for the work.  We chose each other, I think." — Valerie Boyd 

Learn more about Zora Neale Hurston and her work in our Art Works podcast conversation with Valerie Boyd (1963-2022).