Valerie Boyd

Atlanta native Valerie Boyd was a writer, teacher, editor, and acclaimed biographer of Zora Neale Hurston. Her 2003 book, Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston, was celebrated as “the definitive Hurston biography for many years to come.”1 The book won the Southern Book Award for best nonfiction of the year, andBoyd was named Georgia Author of the Year in nonfiction. 

Valerie Boyd was born on December 11, 1963. Her mother, Laura, was a homemaker from Rayle, Georgia and her father, Roger, was a gas station and tire shop operator from Woodland, Alabama. She had two brothers, Michael and Timothy. Boyd excelled in school, leading the student newspaper as an underclassman at C.L. Harper High School. She was the valedictorian of her high school graduating class and attended Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. In 1985, Boyd graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree and began her career as a copy editor for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. During her career, she obtained her Master of Fine Arts in creative nonfiction writing in 1999 from Goucher College. She went on to be a reporter, book critic, line editor, and finally the Arts Editor for the paper. Boyd founded EightRock, a journal of black arts and culture, in 1990. Two years later, she founded HealthQuest, the first nationally distributed magazine that focused on the health of Black people. In 1997, Boyd co-founded the Alice Walker Literary Society with Beverly Guy-Sheftall and Rudolph Byrd and was elected as a board member for the National Book Critics Circle. 

After writing Wrapped in Rainbows, Boyd moved into a career in academia, creating and directing the MFA Narrative Nonfiction writing program for the Henry W. Grady College of Journal and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. She was named Charlayne Hunter-Gault Distinguished Writer-In-Residence in 2007 and editor-at-large for the University of Georgia Press in 2021. Boyd served as senior editor for the Bitter Southerner and on the board of the Southern Foodways Alliance. Throughout her career, Boyd continued to focus on the life and legacy of Zora Neale Hurston. Governor Nathan Deal and First Lady Sandra Dealrecognized Boyd with a Governor’s Award for the Arts and Humanities in 2017.  

Valerie Boyd died on February 12, 2022, following a 5-year battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 58. Family and friends have celebrated her kindness, strength, and determination, including Alice Walker who said, “Valerie Boyd was one of the best people to ever live.”2 Her final books, Gathering Blossoms Under Fire: The Journals of Alice Walker and Bigger Than Bravery: Black Writers on the Pandemic, Shutdown, and Uprising of 2020, will be posthumously published in 2022.