I am reading Carla Kaplan’s incisive biography “Zora Neale Hurston A Life In Letters” again! I recently purchased my copy and I encourage anyone that is a fan of Zora Neale Hurston to buy this book! I like how Kaplan compiled all of Hurston’s letters in chronological order and also included a written discussion about Hurston’s life from the 1920s to the 1950s. Kaplan really made the book very enjoyable and easy to read. Kaplan really did a great job. We learn about Zora’s heartache dealing with racism and sexism during the 1930s when she began applying for grants. We also discover Hurston was not just an author she also was a trained anthropologist.
I hope to purchase Ms. Boyd’s biography “Wrapped In Rainbows” soon it was also recently published a few years ago. Kaplan’s book is simply amazing. Kaplan really did an amazing job of collecting numerous primary source material. I feel like I was entering Zora’s mind I was able to see her thought process.
Zora also was an actress in many ways. Sometimes Zora would act like a stereotypical mammy to gain patronage or acquire support and money from powerful whites. Other times, Zora’s letters come across that she’s a civil rights actvist. Some letters Zora wrote about the importance of black feminism. Zora had written to both her friends and even her enemies. Zora was aware of the persona she had to “create” in order to “get” what she wanted from the respondent to her letters. Zora was a very shrewd woman she knew how to work with people but also how to manipulate them as well.
The book also includes discussion about the famous literary dispute Zora had with Langston Hughes over a play called “Mule Bone.” Sadly, the fight Hurston and Hughes had over “Mule Bone” ended their friendship. Interestingly, Zora does not talk about the “Mule Bone” dispute at all in her controversial memoir “Dust Tracks On A Road.” Langston Hughes does talk about the “Mule Bone” dispute in his first autobiography “The Big Sea” which was published in 1940. Zora’ memoir was published in 1942 she must of known about Langston’s memoir. Zora ignores Langston completely in her memoir as though he never existed.
The dispute between Hurston and Hughes centered around a typist named Louise Thompson she was hired by their “Godmother” Charlotte Osgood Mason. Mason was an old white woman that believed in capturing the essence of the “primitive” African American culture. Hurston and Hughes had contracts with Mason to collect and work on art dealing with African American culture.
Hurston doesn’t seem to trust Thompson and she considers her a threat. I keep on wondering if Kaplan could of peeled the surface a bit more though. I wanted to know were Langston and Zora lovers? The anger and the betrayal Zora feels about Louise Thompson to me suggests there was maybe a love triangle going on? We don’t know if Langston and Zora were romantically involved but I suspect they were. I hope Boyd’s book brings some light to this issue.
Although later on in Langston Hughes life the writer Faith Berry points out that Hughes was indeed a homosexual. I also believe Langston was a homosexual and I think there was dissemblance on his part to hide his homosexuality. Lorraine Hansberry the playwright wrote for the lesbian publication “The Ladder” in the 1950s. Langston Hughes had to hide his homosexuality because he was fearful of losing the public support of the black heterosexual community.
Hughes never married and he never had children. Now of course being single and childless does not mean a person is a homosexual. However, Faith Berry’s 1992 book “Before & Beyond Harlem.” I think is the best biography on Hughes it deals with the fact that he was indeed a homosexual.