“ 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 Carla Kaplan, a noted Hurston scholar, has found hundreds of revealing, previously unpublished letters for this definitive collection; she also provides extensive and illuminating commentary on Hurston’s life and work, as well as an annotated glossary of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.
In this large, new volume of Hurston's collected letters, however, we have a real contribution to our understanding of her life. — Vivian Gornick,