Like other reviewers, I found this book impossible to put down. Boyd's biography of Zora Neale Hurston beautifully represents Hurston in all her complexity: novelist, playwright, anthropologist, folklorist, raconteur, individualist. Hurston emerges as an flawed, deeply gifted, experienced woman who lived her life according to her own terms, in the midst of societal constraints that limited her financial resources, but never her autonomy.
Valerie Boyd mentions that one of her goals in writing this biography was to have Zora Neale Hurston's voice come alive. Through extensive quotations from Hurston's letters and other sources, she accomplishes that, and more. The biography provides a rich depiction of Hurston's life through her eyes and the eyes of her friends, associates, and (sometimes) enemies. Wrapped in Rainbows also provides illuminating contextual information, particularly about the Harlem Renaissance, African American cultural politics, the Depression, and life in the 20th-century South. Boyd provides detailed discussions of Hurston's short stories, plays, novels, and anthropological/folklore texts, including a careful reading of Hurston's autobiography Dust Tracks on a Road against the politics of publishing and Hurston's own motivations in masking some parts of her life.
Boyd reveals in detail how difficult Hurston's life was, as she struggled to support herself solely through her writing, a feat that few other African American writers could replicate at the time. She also develops a clear discussion of the complex differences between Hurston and other black writers of the Harlem Renaissance and after, who questioned Hurston's commitment to racial equality because of her refusal to write fiction with an overt political message. A triumph of the biography is that Boyd represents Hurston with all her flaws and all her gifts - Hurston emerges clearly as an individual who deserves our respect for her commitment to honoring her gifts and living her life on her own terms. Through her humor, her humanity, her energy and her love of life, Hurston drew around her a circle of friends and admirers; in many ways, Boyd's biography creates one last party for Hurston to shine in.