Zora Neale Hurston : a literary biography /

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Main Author: Hemenway, Robert E., 1941-
Format: Book
Language:English
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Review by Kirkus Book Review

Zora Neale Hurston (1901-1960) is one of the most wildly interesting personalities in American literary history. Born in the rural South, she became a noted figure of the Harlem Renaissance, associated with Langston Hughes, Carl Van Vechten, Alain Locke, and Nancy Cunard. While Hemenway's interpretations of the pressures a black artist faces are somewhat intrusive, the complicated, mercurial temperament of his subject is captured through letters, memoirs, and reminiscences. Hurston, in her fiction, drew on her deep feelings for rural black culture, most perfectly realized in Their Eyes Were Watching God. She was never quite in the ""Western""--oriented tradition of black urban intellectuals who defined and symbolized the ""New Negroes"" and perhaps this, along with the inconsistency of her achievement, has caused the ambivalence of previous Hurston scholarship. Hemenway's aesthetic judgments are often unsatisfying (with a stress on folk themes over human experience), but he is thoroughly on her side--to the point of a tacit acceptance of her mystical inclinations. Her interest in folklore led her to study anthropology at Barnard. On various fellowships, she traveled extensively in the South and the Caribbean, collecting material from work songs to the rites of voodoo. Financial struggles, love affairs (resembling afterthoughts, beverage gone fiat), vanity, great wit--Hurston was fiercely independent and constantly in hot water. But she was also a serious artist, hoping to create a true black theatre, to capture the undecorated, undiluted, unsentimental texture of black lives in fiction. In 1948 she was indicted on a morals charge, eventually dismissed, for molesting a ten-year-old child. The scandal so disgusted and wounded her that she abandoned the world of the ""Niggerati"" and went South, continued to work, grew peculiar, and died in utter poverty. The drift of experience in Hurston's life is profound. A biography intended to rediscover this life and acknowledge her contribution to American culture is long overdue. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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