In Memoriam: Valerie Boyd, biographer of Zora Neale Hurston, has died

By Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D.,
NNPA Newswire Culture and Entertainment Editor

Valerie Boyd, world-renowned author of Zora Neale Hurston’s definitive biography, “Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston,” died on February 12, 2022, after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.

Originally from Atlanta, Valérie Jean Boyd was born on December 11, 1963 to Roger and Laura Jean (Burns) Boyd. Her mother was a housewife and her father owned a petrol station and later a tire shop in the Bankhead area of ​​the town where she grew up.

Boyd was Charlayne Hunter-Gault Writer-in-Residence Emeritus and Associate Professor of Journalism at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Media. Boyd co-founded and directed the prominent low-residency MFA program in Narrative Nonfiction in college. Boyd was known for working with the community, mentoring her students, and connecting students with professors and industry leaders to enhance their academic education. In 2015, Boyd hosted an intimate session to introduce 12 high school students to Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker at UGA’s Wilson Center for the Humanities and Arts.

At the time of Boyd’s death, the author had recently completed work on “Gathering Blossoms Under Fire: The Journals of Alice Walker”. Chosen by Walker to work on the project, Boyd spent seven years researching and editing the project which will be published by Simon & Schuster in April 2022.

“Valerie Boyd was one of the finest people who ever lived,” Walker said via a statement from Simon & Schuster. “Although illness had stalked her for several years, she accompanied me in collecting, transcribing and editing my Gathering Blossoms Under Fire journals, and supported me until the end. It was a major achievement , an immense act of love and solidarity, brotherhood, generosity of soul and shared joy, for which she will be remembered.

In addition to her work at UGA, Boyd has had a busy career as arts editor at the Atlanta Journal & Constitution, managing editor for The Bitter Southerner, managing editor for UGA Press, and as a contributor to the Oxford American and anthologies, including “Tradition: An Anthology of Young Black Writers” (1992), edited by Kevin Powell and Ras Baraka. Part of the new wave of 1990s black writers shaping culture and crafts in major black cities, Boyd co-founded and launched “HealthQuest: The Publication of Black Wellness” magazine in 1993. She also launched “EightRock”, a newspaper that focused on African-American arts and culture.

A founding officer of the Alice Walker Literary Society and a member of the National Book Critics Circle, Boyd received a degree in journalism from Northwestern University and an MFA in creative non-fiction writing from Goucher College.

Boyd’s most recent journalism project, HealthPlus, a first digital publication for The Atlanta Voice, focuses on the health of African Americans. Boyd served as a consulting editor on the project which will launch in March 2022.

Boyd is best known for his detailed and illuminating work on Harlem Renaissance writer and icon Zora Neale Hurston. The Southern Book Critics Circle chose “Wrapped in Rainbows” for the 2003 Southern Book Award for Best Nonfiction Book of the Year. The American Library Association selected her biography of Hurston for a 2004 Notable Book Award. In 2017, she received a Governor’s Award for the Arts and Humanities from the government of the day. Nathan Deal and his wife Sandra Deal.

The award recognizes outstanding individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions to the economic, civic, and cultural vitality of Georgia. Boyd will be posthumously inducted into the 2022 Georgia Writers Hall of Fame where she will join illustrious writers Tayari Jones, Toni Cade Bambara, Clarence Major, Jericho Brown, WEB DuBois, Pearl Cleage, Clarence Major, John Lewis, James Alan McPherson, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Alice Walker and Kevin Young among others. A foodie and culture lover, Boyd was a board member of the Southern Foodways Alliance and was known for hosting dining experiences for friends and family.

Boyd was predeceased by her parents Roger and Laura Boyd and her older brother Michael Boyd, who died February 18, 2022 of cancer. She is survived by her younger brother Timothy, her niece Kaylisha and her life partner of 23 years, Veta Goler.

A private service will be held for Boyd on March 5, 2022. The public is invited to view Boyd’s celebration of life at 11 a.m. online at the following link https://vimeo.com/683541854.

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