They were best friends. They were collaborators, literary gadflies, and champions of the common people. They were the leading lights of the Harlem Renaissance. Zora Neale Hurston, the author of Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Langston Hughes, the author of "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" and "Let America Be America Again," first met in 1925, at a great gathering of black and white literati, and they fascinated each other. They traveled together in Hurston's dilapidated car through the rural South collecting folklore, worked on the play Mule Bone, and wrote scores of loving letters. They even had the same patron: Charlotte Osgood Mason, a wealthy white woman who insisted on being called "Godmother."Paying them lavishly while trying to control their work, Mason may have been the spark for their bitter and passionate falling-out. Was the split inevitable when Hughes decided to be financially independent of his patron? Was Hurston jealous of the young woman employed as their typist? Or was the rupture over the authorship of Mule Bone? Yuval Taylor answers these questions while illuminating Hurston's and Hughes's lives, work, competitiveness, and ambition, uncovering little-known details.
"Fascinating in their own rights as major literary figures, Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston are also fascinating for their complicated relationship, which ended in a spectacular clash. They met in New York and became key members of the Harlem Renaissance. She was from rural Florida, adept at capturing the folk culture of common people. He was from a more complex background of privilege and struggle, well-regarded for his penetrating poetry. Both wrestled with the complexities of African American culture and the meaning of authenticity at a time of racist stereotypes. In the midst of it all was Charlotte Osgood Mason, a wealthy white woman who supported and sought to control Hughes, Hurston, and other artists and writers. Deeply dependent on Mason, Hughes and Hurston struggled to be true to themselves as individuals and artists. They defied her by attempting to write a play together, a project that would ultimately tear apart their friendship. Taylor (Darkest America, 2012) has created an intimate portrait of two luminaries of American literature against a backdrop of the cultural, political, and economic forces that influenced them.--Vanessa Bush Copyright 2010 Booklist"
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Publisher's Weekly Review:
"Taylor (Faking It, coauthor), a senior editor at Chicago Review Press, offers a highly readable and informative take on the friendship and subsequent falling-out between two stars of the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston. The two met in New York City during Harlem's cultural heyday and struck up a close friendship as they traveled the South together, where Hurston gathered African-American folklore for a book. They shared a desire to, as Taylor puts it, "get inside the folkways of the African American community and to encompass them in all their variety." They also shared a bond in being supported financially by the same woman, the wealthy, and white, Charlotte Mason. One of the most bizarre and fascinating aspects of their lives was the intrusion of this highly controlling figure, fixated on the idea that the culture of black Americans was more primitive and pure than that of whites. The book offers an overlong and needlessly detailed look at the complicated fight over the pair's coauthored play Mule-Bone, which ended their friendship. Nevertheless, Taylor paints a sympathetic but realistic portrait of these two complicated artists and convincingly shows that, together, they changed the course of African-American literature, as the "first great American writers who implicitly claimed that their work was purely black." (Mar.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved."
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