Yuval Taylor’s third book with the agency, ZORA AND LANGSTON: A Story of Friendship and Betrayal, will be published by W.W. Norton in March 2019. His previous books are FAKING IT: The Quest for Authenticity in Popular Music (written in collaboration with Hugh Barker, and published in 2007), and DARKEST AMERICA: Black Minstrelsy from Slavery to Hip-Hop (written in collaboration with Jake Austen and published in 2012).
Two giants of the Harlem Renaissance and American literature, Zora Neale Hurston (Their Eyes Were Watching God) and Langston Hughes (“The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” “Let America Be America Again”) were collaborators, literary gadflies, and close companions. They traveled together in Hurston’s broken-down car through the rural South collecting folklore, worked on the play Mule Bone, and wrote scores of loving letters to each other. They even had the same patron: wealthy Charlotte Osgood Mason, a white woman who insisted on being called “Godmother.” Paying them lavishly while trying to control their work, she may have been the spark for their bitter falling out. Was the split inevitable when Hughes decided to be financially independent of Mason? Was Hurston jealous of the woman employed as their secretary? Or was it over the authorship of Mule Bone? Zora and Langston answers these questions while illuminating Hurston and Hughes’s lives, work, sense of competition, and desire for success.
Here is some of the advance praise the book has garnered:
“Taylor’s new book provides details never before revealed of how both left indelible marks on American literature and each other.” — Joanna Poncavage, BookTrib
“Taylor has created an intimate portrait of two luminaries of American literature against a backdrop of the cultural, political, and economic forces that influenced them.” — Booklist
“Taylor creates a perceptive portrait of the bizarre patron and of the Hurston-Hughes friendship. A fresh look at two important writers of the 1920s.” — Kirkus Reviews
“Highly readable and informative…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.” — Publishers Weekly
“An intriguing story about the most confounding and fascinating literary breakup in African American cultural history. Rich in atmosphere and detail, Zora and Langston takes readers deep into the heart of the Harlem Renaissance and the brief but marvelous bond between the leading luminaries of their day.” — Emily Bernard, author of Black Is the Body
“The extraordinary friendship between Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes produced one of the richest collaborations in American literature, though much of what they created never found its way to the public. Yuval Taylor digs deeply into the existing scholarship on both writers—and their times—to explore this unusual intimacy and the tragedy of its collapse. The story of their friendship returns us to the brilliant work of these writers. And it reminds us of all we have lost since these two American geniuses were forced to let each other go.” — Carla Kaplan, author of Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in Letters and Miss Anne in Harlem
“Taylor examines here perhaps the single most controversial set of personal and professional relationships in African American literature, centered in the iconic duo of Hughes and Hurston but including other unforgettable figures, white as well as black. Digging vigorously in sources new and known, he reconstructs this drama in clear, lively, and elegant if sometimes unsparing prose. This is a dazzling book, easy to read but richly rewarding.” — Arnold Rampersad, author of The Life of Langston Hughes (2 vols.)
In addition to his three books, Yuval formerly worked for Chicago Review Press, and has edited three volumes of African American slave narratives. His writings have appeared in The Antioch Review, The Guardian, and other publications. He lives in Chicago.