Yuval Taylor's "Zora and Langston" is a fast-paced, engaging account of the friendship between Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, as well as their eventual "falling out." The book begins with the meeting of these two extraordinary individuals, and then follows their friendship all the way through the drafting of the play "Mule Bone," the writing of which would ultimately lead to the end of their friendship. Along the way Taylor introduces us to important luminaries, such as Louise Thompson, Alain Locke, Countee Cullen, Charles Johnson, and Carl van Vechten, among others, although Taylor always manages to keep his story focused on his chief two protagonists, Hughes and Hurston, which keeps the reader highly engaged throughout. The characters are well drawn, and the relationships well described; one nitpick would be the lack of characterization of Zora's experiences with sexism in the very male and often very homosexual clique she was involved with; and while Taylor does a respectful rendering of both characters, there is still the issue of Taylor being the author of the book. When the question of who should tell black people's stories was so central to the aesthetic of both Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston (consider Hughes' poem "Note on Commercial Theater" which begins, "You've taken my blues and gone,") it has to be mentioned that it is a white writer who is telling this story. Zora and Langston were both very adamant about black people telling their own stories, especially considering the historical context of blackface, white cultural anthropology and white cultural appropriation that they were rebelling against. So, at the risk of sounding too militant, this story really ought to have been written by a black author, just given the context of whom it concerns, the particulars of the story itself, (a story in which the authors were ultimately not allowed to create authentic black theater because of a white patron) and because in general, we need more black books.
I received an advance copy of the book from the publishers at my own request, and in the interest of full disclosure I should say that my own interest in the book comes from the fact that I published a fictionalized version of this exact same story, a novel called "Harlem Mosaics." Arguably, Taylor's book works as a perfect companion piece to my novel. However my main critique of Taylor's approach would be that he doesn't really answer any of the open questions that still linger about this relationship -- basically open questions that led me to fictionalize the story -- as so much is open to interpretation. Nevertheless, Taylor does a wonderful job of compiling the events that surround this debacle, and he presents them in a fashion that is certain to make this story of literary rivalry continue to live well into the 21st century.
REVIEW 👉🏿 I think this is a well researched piece of writing that gives great insight to a friendship between two of the great writers during the period defined as the Harlem Renaissance. To pull together a cohesive story from interviews and correspondence to create a book length narrative that is filled with book references and a host of characters prominent and obscure, is no small feat. 📘📘📘📘📘📘📘📘 The patron, Charlotte Osgood Mason played an oversized role in both Zora and Langston’s life, and her meddling ways helped to fuel the split between the two. The shame of their friendship was the lack of reconciliation, as they truly seemed to feed off one another early on in their friendship. 📘📘📘📘📘📘📘📘 To have someone in the trenches with you as you each try to eke out a literary life was something they both cherished, and ambition got the better of them and fractured what was becoming a partnership that included a writing of a play, though Zora claimed she wrote while Langston made a few suggestions. He of course, has a bit different version of events, but ultimately the rift never was healed. 📘📘📘📘📘📘📘📘 The author paints a picture of the times, so the reader has a vivid sense of the comings and goings of their lives as well as their literary triumphs and failures. Truly well done.