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Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters Paperback – December 2, 2003


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 912 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (December 2, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385490364
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385490368
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #311,043 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

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Her letters are inside proof of her amazing talent and joyful, triumphant will.
Melanie Gilbert
I can't stop reading her words and I have been returning to read her writings since I was a teen...so for almost 20 years but it remains new.
Gem Avery
For this reason, I have read Valerie Boyd's excellent biography in tandem with Kaplan's collection of Hurston's letters.
Lynn Moylan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Alvin C. Romer on January 29, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Putting words to paper, from writing letters, notes, or even a book often epitomizes the need to garner those thoughts that should be preserved lest we forget that when done right, can be worth the work. Zora Neale Hurston: A Life In Letters, edited by Karla Kaplan captivates an anthology revealing contradictions and conjectures of a woman who was the most brazenly impious of the Harlem literary avant-garde, and who never fit happily within any political group. This is truly a big book at 880 pages, certainly not one to read verbatim. Even in bulk, the substance therein is worth spending time getting a gist of what was on her mind while appealing to the personalities that she directed the letters to. Ironically, I used a unique method to get more out of this tome by reading it in tandem with Wrapped In Rainbows, a biography written by journalist Valerie Boyd. By doing it this way, I was able to make direct reference to certain passages outlined in the biography whenever emphasis was made to specific letters written. This book has a character of its own, and allows you to feel the essence of Zora herself. The fact that Zora was quoted often enough to be elevated to legendary status, and what you read therein is Zora at her best. The letters were more than 500 in all, written through the eyes of a woman who always had something to say and said it vociferously.
I personally feel that her life in letters reveal more about her than perhaps the entire body of her published works combined, especially since books that were considered autobiographical didn't reveal nearly as much as they should have. Her tone and tenor for the most part was vivacious illustrating wit, irony, satire, and quirky anecdotes that were evident in some capacity as she conveyed her thoughts.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Melanie Gilbert VINE VOICE on March 6, 2005
Format: Paperback
Zora Neale Hurston told her life story through the many novels and plays she wrote, but she also told it through the incredible volume of letters she wrote to friends and supporters as well as to her enemies and detractors. She was a prolific letter writer whose main theme was always on her public life of writing.

Through Kaplan's "A Life in Letters," Hurston reveals all the joys and frustrations, the highs and lows of a writing life. They also reveal her constant struggles, despite critical acclaim, to make ends meet.

But this woman loved to write and loved an audience. Her letters are inside proof of her amazing talent and joyful, triumphant will. They very clearly convey her belief that words and stories can transform people and shape events.

It's a complex and impressive book to read. Kaplan organizes the letters by decade and provides a personal and professional context for each chapter through scholarly introductions and extensive footnotes. Even some 50 years after her death, the tone and flavor in Hurston's letters are so charged and immediate you almost want to drop her a line. Who knows? This woman's spirit was so strong, she may even write back.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Speed Racer on March 6, 2005
Format: Paperback
You'll fall in love with Zora through the letters that she wrote from the early 20s until her death in 1960. A compelling and fascinating woman who didn't leave much unsaid. The letters still brim with vitality and energy and reflect the character of a woman way ahead of her time.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Lynn Moylan on March 28, 2004
Format: Paperback
Kaplan's collection of Hurston's letters provides her fans with a first-hand intimate view into the mind of the author which has previously been restricted to the perview of scholars. For the first time, readers can draw their own conclusions about Hurston's often contradictory, enigmatic, and adventurous life.
The letters are logically organized in chronological order with a comprehensive and lively introduction to each decade. Kaplan's painstakingly thorough research, evidenced in her footnotes and glossary, help guide the reader's interpetation and understanding of events in a way that a biography cannot. For this reason, I have read Valerie Boyd's excellent biography in tandem with Kaplan's collection of Hurston's letters. I was also impressed with the "new" research in Kaplan's book that sheds light on some of Hurston's social and political stands, such as her involement in the first black doll to be produced in the U.S. In addition to the many new facts she presents, I also found Kaplan's editorial comments to be extremely enlightening and well-founded. I beleive that most fans who read this collection of letters will most likely feel the same way toward Kaplan as I do . . . deeply grateful for the gift of insight.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 26, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I wasn't a Hurston fan when I started reading, but now I find myself fascinated by her life and her times. This book was such a detailed and compelling introduction to both. And so well written!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Art Ellis on August 12, 2005
Format: Paperback
Kaplan has an excellent compilation here, but readers who bought her hard copy first edition and compared it with her second edition paperback will notice a complete rewrite of her commentary of the Ruby McCollum story. In the first edition, Kaplan states that "McCollum did not testify at her trial," and gives a rather superficial (and inaccurate) account of the Adams-McCollum connection. In the second edition, she correctly reports the trial and greatly improves her account of the story, with the exception of erring in Ruby McCollum's age by failing to do primary research and visit McCollum's grave to see the marker.

What Kaplan also fails to do is to mention my name, and the fact that my contact with her regarding my book, The Trial of Ruby McCollum (available on Amazon), included the complete transcript of the missing trial as well as other detailed research that she evidently either revisited with greater thoroughness, or discovered for the first time. She had promised an acknowledgment of my contribution to her work, but seems to have forgotten the promise. This makes me question her other research, and the proper crediting of sources.

I cannot argue that her book is otherwise a great contribution to Hurston scholarship, but I can set the record straight on how her work was improved by my contributions without even a footnote.
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