Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction, Yiddish Literature, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality historical novels are some of my Literary Interests





Thursday, September 27, 2018

The Flight of the Wren by Orla McAlinden- 2018


















The Irish Times on The Flight of the Wren





Irish Famine 1845 to 1849

Death estimated at one million



As many as two million left the country, for America, Canada, New Zealand and Australia 



The immediate cause was a crop disease that destroyed 

potatoes, the primary food of the Irish.  It was made much worse by the actions of the English.  Properly governed, this need never have happened.  Wherever the English ruled, famine followed.  




No other, of the several works of fiction and nonfiction I 

have read on the Irish Famine Years (1845 to 1849) comes as close to capturing the lived experience of the Irish people than Orla McAliden’s darkly beautiful debut novel, The Flight of the Wren.  The Wren were a group of several hundred Irish women driven by social devastation of the 
famine to survive by prostituting themselves to the British soldiers stationed in Kildaire.



The novel is structured in a very interesting fashion.  It begins in 1919 in Hobart, Australia, on the island of Tasmania, once known as Van Dieman’s Land. Saoirse, young woman is at the bedside of her dying grandmother.  They are at a prosperous inn owned by her grandmother 
which will become hers one day.  She knows that what she has been told about her family history back in Ireland is not the truth.  Before her grandmother passes, she wants to know her real family history.  She fears everything upon which she has based her identity is a lie, a dark coverup.


Switching between Ireland and Australia and between 1848 and 1919, we vivaciously experience the horror of the 

famine through the experiences of fourteen year old Sally MaHon.  Sally’s parents have just died from what is called “road fever”.  She has no one to turn to for help.  She sleeps for a few days on her parents grave until she takes to the road to Kildare where she thinks she can find work at the large British Army garrison.  She meets a very decent man who gives her a ride, some food, some advise and asks nothing in return.  It felt good to see the decency of the 
Irish has not been totally destroyed.  When Sally reaches Kildare she meets a Nellie twenty
six, a Wren, a woman living by sexually servicing the British soldiers.  We witness horrifying scenes of starvation and degredation.  Nellie comes up with a plot.  Sally and her will commit arson in the hopes they will be transported to Australia.  After a few years a woman is given her freedom.  Women are in short supply.  Nellie’s plan is to keep control of Sally in Australia, keep her a virgin and find her a rich 
husband.  Nellie will pose as her older sister and plans to live with Sally and her husband.

McAliden vividly shows us the horror of prison life.  It was so scary when Sally goes in front of the judge.  The longest part of the novel is devoted to the three month long boat trip from Ireland to Australia.  There are lots of marvelous detail that brings the seemingly endless voyage to reality.  Everything revolves around food.  


I don’t want to tell more of the plot.  Lots of great things happen and of course there is horror. I loved The Flight of the Wren.  The characters are perfect, the desperate hunger speaks of deep cultural pain, the scenes in Australia, where Sally lived on for many years, tell us just enough to let us construct somethings for ourselves.  We see how the famine brings out the worst and the best in people.

The Flight of the Wren is a brilliant work of historical fiction.

I give it my endorsement to all, especially those interested in Irish history or the early years of British Australia. It would make a wonderful movie.  

As a nonfiction companion work I highly recommend The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia's Founding by Robert Hughes.  He goes into a lot of detail on Tasmania.

In terms of fiction, I suggest The Secret River Trilogy by Kate Grenville, set in Australia starting one hundred years prior to The Famine years.

These four books and The Flight of The Wren would make a great early Australia Reading Binge.

For background on why famines occured whereever the British ruled, you should read Late Victorian Holocausts by Mike Davis.


Kildare, Ireland
Award-winning Irish writer, inspired by Ireland's complex and difficult history.

The Flight of the Wren, Published 2018 winner of the CD Lewis award and the Greenbean Novel Fair. Available at www.kennys.ie


The Accidental Wife, winner the Eludia Award, 2014. 
Available on Kindle http://amzn.to/2ui883O and paperback http://amzn.to/2csjFX2 also at www.kennys.ie 


Contains the Irish Book Awards Short Story of the Year 2016 bit.ly/2v1wS3m

From www.orlamcalinden.com

I look Forward to following Orla McAliden’s work for years to come.


Mel u

























Monday, September 24, 2018

“Vilna Without Vilna” - A Short Story by Abraham Karpinowitz -1993 - translated from Yiddish by Helen Mintz, 2016







Abraham Karpinowitz 

1913- Born Vilna, Lithuanian

1937 - moves to the Soviet Union

1944 - he returns to a nearly destroyed Vilna with most of the Jewish residents murdered by the Germans.  From “Vilna Without Vilna”-  “the German murderers came to our city to slaughter the Jews.”

1949- after time at a displaced persons camp in Cyprus, he moves permanently to Israel.  For thirty years he was director of the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra.  He wrote many stories in Yiddish set in the city he loved, Vilna.  Intellectually he wrote about the role of Yiddish as a marginalised language in Israel.

2004- He dies in Israel 

In its day Vilna was the cultural center of Jewish Europe.  Vilna had the greatest scholars, the most beautiful temples, The finest schools, marvellous libraries, a vibrant Yiddish theatre and numerous publishing houses.  It was the home to the Vivo Institute, now relocated in New York City.  It was often called the Jerusalem of Europe.  On Yiddish heritage tours of Europe, it is a leading destination.  

This being said, the world Karpinowitz brings to life in his wonderful stories is the Vilna of gangsters, pick pockets, whore houses (his term).  Here are the words of the narrator of “Vilna Without Vilna”

“I was at home from Sophianikes Street, with the whorehouses crammed with shiksas and a few Jewish girls”.

The narrator, in his late teens when we meet him, has returned to Vilna after years in Canada, where he has become rich, he owns two hotels, married into s good family.  It is now 1993, over fifty years since he moved to Canada.

In his youth in Vilna, he learned to be a skilled pick pocket from a Fagin like figure who ran a College for crime in Vilna.  Through sheer luck just before the Germans invaded he made it to Canada.  Now it is 1980 and he is back in Vilna.  Only Vilna he loved is no more, he goes to his old haunts and they are long torn down.  He tries to trace old friends but they either have moved to Israel, were killed in the Holocaust or nobody seems to have ever heard of them.  He knows people seem him now as a rich older Jewish tourist, not the pick pocket and street urchin he once was. 

“And what’s left on Yiddishe Street, just opposite my street? Nothing, as though the street had never existed. Gone is Velfke Usian’s restaurant where all the actors from the Yiddish theater used to come and eat. I knew them all. Moyshe Karpinowitz with his little beard ran the theater on Ludvizarske Street. He used to let me in to watch the performances, but he’d warn me, “Itsik, go up to the balcony. And keep your hands to yourself.” Gone is Yoshe with his kvass stand. Gone is Osherke the Herring’s bar. They were all on Yiddishe Street. At Osherke’s, people ate all the different kind of herring, starting early in the morning. They also played billiards there. Before my eyes, I see the entrance to Velfke’s restaurant. One sunny day, Avromke the Anarchist was sitting on the steps with something to say to everyone. He certainly never let a young lady, whether married or single, pass by without comment. I’d just left Osherke’s bar and I saw everything. I saw Dovidke the Cheat appear out of nowhere and stab Avromke in the heart with a knife. Avromke managed to stand up, grab Dovidke by the arm, and cry out, “You too, Dovidke?” Then he hit the ground, a dead man.”

This is a marvelous story.  An elegy for a lost city, a nearly destroyed way of life.

I look forward  to reading the remaining stories and I offer my great thanks to Helen Mintz for these elegant prize winning translations.

I wish i knew a bit more about his life but maybe I will learn.





Helen Mintz is an internationally acclaimed solo artist, storyteller, translator (Yiddish to English) and teacher based in Vancouver British Columbia.
Helen’s work bridges traditional storytelling and contemporary solo performance, moving between past and present, between comedy and pathos. Helen brings stories and poems from the rich Yiddish tradition to a non Yiddish speaking audience. Committed to social justice and reconciliation, she shares inspiring tales of individual and social healing, leaving her audience with a renewed feeling of hope.
Helen has toured her one woman shows in Canada, the United States, and Lithuania.
Helen teaches storytelling  workshops to children, youth, and adults in large and small groups.
Helen’s performance is rooted in her Jewish identity and her involvement in social justice work. She shares stories of forgiveness and reconciliation. She tells inspiring tales of individual and social healing, shining light into darkness and leaving her audience with a renewed feeling of hope. The healing stories Helen tells include traditional tales, memoirs of the Holocaust, stories about both the rebuilding of South Africa and the movement for peace and human rights in Israel and Palestine, and stories about the struggle for gay and lesbian rights.
Helen began performing to share Eastern European Jewish experience with both Jewish and non Jewish audiences, telling family stories she learned as a child. She then set out in search of the stories she was never told, doing research, studying the Yiddish language and working with Jewish seniors. Helen’s original versions of traditional Jewish stories have been published, recorded, and are told my many other tellers.
Helen’s career as a performer was launched in a “cupboard” when she performed as a last minute entry in the 1993 Vancouver Women in View festival. There she was “discovered” by Barbara Crook, the Vancouver Sun theatre critic. Crook wrote, Helen Mintz’ solo show is a beautifully written tribute to human survival in general and to the strength of women in particular. Mintz blends moments of humour with images of unity and empowerment.
Helen has undertaken intensive study of the Yiddish language including study at the University of Vilnius in Lithuania and at the YIVO summer Yiddish program in New York. She translates Yiddish literary works into English.
Helen has toured in Canada, the United States, and Lithuania. Helen performed in New York at a conference on Women in Yiddish; at the 11th annual Gay and Lesbian Theatre Festival in Seattle; and at the British Columbia annual provincial restorative justice conference at Ferndale Correctional Institution She has been a featured artist at numerous storytelling festivals in Vancouver, Toronto, Sechelt and Seattle and enjoyed three different runs at the Vancouver Women in View festival where she played to sold-out audiences and standing ovations. Helen’s work has been broadcast on radio and television both in Canada and the United States.
Helen has taught storytelling to countless adults, youth, and children in schools, colleges, and at conferences and festivals. She was an artist in residence for the Vancouver School Board for four years. She regularly teaches a storytelling class in the continuing education department of Langara College.














Thursday, September 20, 2018

“A Gentile Girl” - A Short Story by Ephraim Kaganovski - Translated from Yiddish by Bracha Weingrod












Ephraim Kaganowski 

1893 Born in Warsaw

He publishes his first short story at 16, catching the eye of L. J. Peretz 

He moved about Europe, spending seven years in post Revolutionary Russia, returned to Poland before finally settling in Paris.

The stories in the collection from which “The Gentile Girl” is taken was first published in 1928. After New York City, Poland at that time had the largest Jewish population of any city with a vibrant Yiddish Press and Theatre. 

There are twenty stories in the collection, I will talk more about the career of Kaganovski and Yiddish culture in Poland in subsequent posts.

In her very well done introduction Bracha Weingrod tells us that some of his stories have O. Henry style surprise endings.  “The Gentile Girl” for sure does. (I will disclose the ending, contrary to my normal practice.  How it plays out is a lot of fun and their are nineteen other stories.)

As I read this story I was at once brought to mind an episode on one of my favourite American TV series, Seinfeld.  From Season Seven, “Serenity Now” focuses on Elaine’s, a non-Jewish woman, tremendous appeal to three Jewish men.  George explains to her that this is known as “The Shiska Appeal”, Jewish men attracted to a woman unlike their mothers.  In the program even a Rabbi says he will renounce his faith for her.  Kaganowski could have written this script!

As “The Gentile Girl” opens a group of friends are listening to one of the guys talk about this Gentile girl he is seeing.  This was outside of cultural norms and for sure his mother would have something to say.  

“It first began with a hasty word and a wink. The young people gathered more closely together, and grasped each bit of news as one would relish a good cigarette that someone had brought. “A shikse (gentile girl).” “A real shikse?” “A real shikse.” Among the circle of friends, who gathered almost every evening in the café around the same table, there spread a current of curiosity. One demanded of another, “So where is this shikse? When will we finally see her?” The girls and women in the circle were quick to voice their opinion. Fraulein Ola, the prettiest of the group, reasoned with some regret, “So what if she is a shikse? What is a shikse, a different person? Herein lies the weakness of Jewish men - for a non-Jewish woman they would go through fire! I have been hearing about the shikse for several days and simply don’t understand what causes this excitement. Sounds to me like a very provincial demeaning expression.” Whereupon there continued a long discussion about Jewish and non-Jewish women regarding beauty and honesty. The men agreed that the non-Jewish woman was simpler, more practical and more emotional. This caused a quarrel between the young Leiberman couple, and she angrily moved away from him. “Go, so take yourself off to the shikse.”

More and more she becomes part of the group, then the surprise is sprung.  The Leiberman’s are having a big birthday party and have invited some guests not part of the group.  The guests want to meet the shiska everybody is talking about.


“Madam Leiberman entered the room with her old friend. Naturally she wanted her to see the shiksl, which was rather difficult because she was encircled by people. “And this is our shiksl!” she said to her friend. “Come and meet her.” The friend opened her eyes wide and covered her mouth quickly, as though she were coughing, although no one could tell whether she was coughing or laughing. Suddenly they all heard her shrill voice, “Since when have you become a shikse, Yadzshe?” It became strangely quiet and tense in the room. In all corners words were whispered and exchanged. The details flew like lightening from corner to corner: that her father was a khosid (pious Jew), that they owned a store selling kosher canvas, linen and tailors’ goods. This friend, who had lived in the same courtyard as the family for years, told of her father who sat in the Sukkah singing zmires (rabbinical tunes). No one came forward to admonish her, but all were angry. Not so much angry as regretful. Accusations were made to Edward, and mostly by the men, warnings of an unclear betrayal, of a deceived illusion. The Jewish sense of equality and love between strangers, between Jews and Gentiles, remained an illusion.”

This story was a lot of fun to read. I look forward to reading the other nineteen stories. 


Bracha B. Weingrod was born in Winnipeg, Canada, studied in Boston, Mass, where she received a B.Sc (Psychology) from Northwestern and a M.Ed. from Boston University. She came to live in Israel in 1974. She is an educator and lover of Yiddish and good traditional food. From her early days as a teacher in Yiddish in Winnipeg, she has since 1974 taught at Yellin Teachers College in Jerusalem, Israel. She founded and ran the Israel Dyslexia Association, the Kohl Teachers’ Center in Jerusalem, and has written and lectured extensively on Hebrew/English learning disabilities. She is retired and lives in Jerusalem with her husband Alex.






The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard - 2093



Shirley Hazzard on The Reading Life





My thanks to Max u for The Amazon Gift Card that allowed me to acquire this work. 
 Winner U.S.A National Book Award for Fiction, 2003

Born 1931. Sydney, Australia

Died 2016, New York City, U.S.A 


The Great Fire is the first novel by Shirley Hazzard I have had the pleasure of experiencing.  Last month I read and posted on one of her short stories, “Cliffs of Fall”.

The great fire refers, among other things, to the destruction of the traditional culture of Japan in their defeat in World War Two.  Set in 1947, mostly in Japan and Australia, the people in the novel are trying to get on with their lives now that the war is over.  Some of the men were badly wounded, all suffer mental trauma, parents struggle to understand why their son had to die.  The great fire is also, mentioned several times, a symbolic representation of the bombing of Hiroshima.

One of the certral characters, Alfred Leith, 32, is in Japan to write about impact defeat had on Japanese society.  He is involved in a romance with a woman of 17, the daughter of an Australian Brigadier General.

The characters are all readers, my kind of people!  

The characters are quite subtly developed.  The conversations are very interesting.  The prose is old fashionedly exquiste. The sentences are marvelous.

I enjoyed this novel a lot.  I read a review that compared her style to Elizabeth Bowen, a writer I have read extensively.










Wednesday, September 19, 2018

“The Yom Kippur Cantor—Someone to Envy” - A Short Story by Sholem Aleichem - translated from Yiddish by Curt Leviant





Click Here to Read The Story


The Official Sholem Aleichem Website - Your First Resource


Sholem Aleichem on The Reading  Life 







In October of 2012 Yale University Press very generously gave me a complete set of The Yale Yiddish Library, nine volumes of the consensus greatest works of Yiddish literature, novels, plays, poems, essays and lots of short stories.  My first reaction, aside from delight and gratitude, was “where do I start?”

One of first works I read was an epistolary novel by Sholem Aleichem, The Letters of Menalham Mendi and Sheyne Sheyndi (ok not catchiest title but they did not have marketing departments in publishing houses in 1905).  This turned out to be a great delight, hilarious, realistic and the characters ring true. Here are parts of my thoughts from October 22, 2012:

“The letters that make up the novel are between a man and wife in early 20th century Ukraine.   It is just so funny I laughed out loud as I read it.   The man has left home to make money to send home for the support of his long 

suffering wife and their many children.   The woman is a conservative stay at home grounded in folk wisdom and the family wife and mother where the husband is bolder and though he probably loves his wife, finds his home life a bit boring.  He ,tries six different occupations from stock broker, writer,real estate sales, loan factoring and insurance sales man to match maker.  He starts each new occupation with a letter to his wife saying how he was cheated in his previous occupation but the new venture he had undertaken will bring the family riches. His wife writes back, with each letter starting with a loving greeting, and tells him how terrible things are at home, how her mother tells her she married a fool, and how he is an idiot with a bloated ego.  As I read this I could not help but see myself getting letters like this had this been me and my wife.  I felt it  when she kept calling him "your highness".  I found the ending terribly sad.”

Today’s story takes place on Yom Kippur Day, The Day of Atonement in the Jewish Liturgical Calender.  We are at a synagogue.  A highly talented cantor is preforming the closing prayer.  Sadly,he dies in mid-preformance.  Of 

course his wife is in shock as is everyone else.  We then learn that anyone who dies on  Yom Kippur days is given, at the expense of the community, a first class funeral all envy.

A simple story that I enjoyed reading.  

Sholom Aleichem is by far the most now known Yiddish writer.  Most identify him as the creator of the characters on which Fiddler on The Roof is based.



















Monday, September 17, 2018

Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston by Valerie Boyd, 2004, with an added PostScript 2016, 528 Pages




  
















1891 Born in Alabama

1960 Dies Fort Pierce, Florida



1937 - Published Their Eyes Were Watching God - her acknowledged Master Work

Zora Neale Hurston was a novelist, a master of the short story, an anthropologist, focusing mostly on the culture of African Americans in central Florida and on the influence of Voodoo on the religious and spiritual views of those in this area.  Her short stories are world class cultural treasures. She studied anthropology with Franz Boaz, mentor to Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict. She was extremely well read and highly educated.  Tragically she died in poverty and obscurity.  Her work is vital to students of Florida history.


An Autodidactic Corner Selection.


Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston by Valerie Boyd Is everything we hope a literary biography will be.  My exposure to Hurston began with her short stories (my posts include links to a few of the stories) and so far culminates in her acknowledged by all master work Their Eyes Were Watching God.

Before I read Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston I had a vague idea of the life history of Hurston.  Boyd has brought her to life for me.  I don’t wish to repeat more of her life history than below, instead I will just talk a bit about some of the things I took away from this wonderful biography.

1891 Born in Alabama

1894 moves, with her family to Eatonville, Florida, near Orlando, which 
was one of the first self-governing municipalities in the country with a nearly all African American population. She was one of eight children.

1960 Dies Fort Pierce, Florida

1937 - Published Their Eyes Were Watching God - her acknowledged Master Work

Zora Neale Hurston was a novelist, a master of the short story, an anthropologist, focusing mostly on the culture of African Americans in central Florida and on the influence of Voodoo on the religious and spiritual views of those in this area.  Her short stories are world class cultural treasures. She studied anthropology with Franz Boaz, mentor to Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict. She was extremely well read and highly educated.  Tragically she died in poverty and obscurity.  Her work is vital to students of Florida history.

The story and the stories of Hurston begins in Eatonville, Florida.  Many of the characters that populate her fiction are modelled on residents of Eatonville. The speech patterns of people from the town are replicated in her work.  The standard white stereotyping of her time suggested the speech patterns are a mark of ignorance and low intelligence.  When Boyd explained that these speech patterns were learned from whites in the colonial south, not obviously brought from Africa, it opened my mind up to how much prejudice based on speech patterns still permeates American society.  

In the public mind, Hurston is somehow seen as a tragic figure with a sad life.  She did have issues, who does not, but she also had a very rich, interesting life.  Being super intelligent she intrigued white liberals who, often with quite patronising undertones, helped her with cash subsidies. From Boyd I learned of a very wealthy older white widow from New York who gave subsidies to what she saw as promising African American writers and Artists.  She insisted those she help call her “Godmother”. For years she was Hurston’s primary financial life line.  There was a catch.  She insisted Hurston do reports on the customs, religion and speech patterns of African Americans from Florida.  She also had control over what Hurston could publish. She also supported Langston Hughes, a long time friend of Hurston until a falling out.  Boyd makes even the minor figures real.  


Hurston traveled, often by herself, throughout the south in a time when few hotels would accept African American guests.
 She dealt with racial ignorance with a shrug of her shoulder.

Hurston was a contradiction.  In someways she was very independent, marrying three times in relationships that did not last. Hurston needed her freedom to work while on the other hand being very dependent on white generosity.  We see her very much begging for money from her Godmother, applying for grants for research, borrowing from friends and relatives.

It was very exciting to go along with her to Honduras to do
studies there.  She was a student of a very important anthropologist, Francis Boas, and used his methods.  We see this same pattern of dependence in this relationship.  Hurston was fascinated by Voodoo.  She took instruction from Voodoo priests in New Orleans.  She analysed the faith as a blending of Catholic beliefs with West  African.  It was wonderful when Boyd took us along to Haiti. 

Boyd goes into a good bit of detail on traditional Black colleges of The period.  Later in Life she was often the only African American in attendance at Elite colleges.


Boyd gives a very detailed account of Hurston’s publishing history, both as to content and as a business.  Hurston wanted to live from her writings and her grants but this was so hard.  Boyd shows us how the Great American Depression of the 1930s impacted Harlem, where Hurston lived on and off and how it dried up the money that funded the Harlem Renaissance.  

Hurston seemed happiest living in rural central Florida, where she often returned.  Maybe she seemed a bit lonely.  She was probably so smart she scared most people.  Maybe her troubled relationship with her father made it hard for her to enter into lasting marriages.  Her relationships with Gay men like Langston Hughes lasted much longer than her three marriages.

There is much more in this great biography.  Hurston had a powerful Joie de vivre.  (I wished so much she could have lived to become rich from movies made from her works and buy an elegant apartment in Paris and a mansion on the Suwannee River.). 

There is a tremendous amount anyone into Florida history will love in this book. I can personally vouch for the fact you did not learn this history in school.

There is a comprehensive list of her copious publications and a bibliography of related works. There are lots on interesting pictures.

Boyd does a profound job of letting us ponder the well springs of creativity that gave rise to the work Hurston.

On a side note.  I bought the Kindle edition for the extreme bargain price of $0.95 on one day only flash sale I lucked into.  It is now back up to $14.95.

This book is very well written. Boyd gives us a full person. Hurston was a deep 
reader and was educated by her travels.  Whereever she went, she always carried some books.

I liked this book very much.  All teachers of American Literature should read this, all into Florida history and really anyone who loves a fine literary biography  love this book.




Valerie Boyd is the author of Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston and the forthcoming Spirits in the Dark: The Untold Story of Black Women in Hollywood.

She is an Associate Professor and the Charlayne Hunter-Gault Distinguished Writer in Residence at the Grady College of Journalism at the University of Georgia, where she teaches magazine writing, arts reviewing and narrative nonfiction. 

She has taught creative nonfiction in the graduate writing program at Antioch University in Los Angeles.
Valerie earned a bachelor’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 1985 and an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing from Goucher College in 1999.
An accomplished journalist and cultural critic, Valerie is the former arts editor at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and she has been published in numerous anthologies, magazines and newspapers. Her articles, essays and reviews have appeared in Step Into a World: A Global Anthology of the New Black Literature, Ms. magazine, Paste, The Oxford American, Book magazine, Essence, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Creative Nonfiction, African American Review, The Scholar and Feminist Online and other publications.
She founded EightRock, a cutting-edge journal of black arts and culture, in 1990. In 1992, she co-founded HealthQuest, the first nationally distributed magazine focusing on African-American health.
Wrapped in Rainbows—the first biography of Zora Neale Hurston in 25 years—was published to wide critical acclaim. It was hailed by Alice Walker as “magnificent” and “extraordinary”; by The Washington Post as  “definitive”; by the Boston Globe as “elegant and exhilarating”; and by the Denver Post as “a rich, rich read.”
For her work on Wrapped in Rainbows, Valerie received the Georgia Author of the Year Award in nonfiction as well as an American Library Association Notable Book Award. The Georgia Center for the Book named Wrapped in Rainbows one of the “25 Books That All Georgians Should Read,” and the Southern Book Critics Circle honored it with the 2003 Southern Book Award for best nonfiction of the year.
Valerie is currently finishing her next book, Spirits in the Dark: The Untold Story of Black Women in Hollywood, which will be published by Knopf. She lives in Atlanta.

From author’s website.