Photo credit: Cindy Brown. Used by permission.
by Robin Kemp
Valerie Boyd, the acclaimed biographer and journalist who founded the University of Georgia’s Master of Fine Arts longform journalism program, died of pancreatic cancer at her home in Pine Lake on Saturday, Feb. 12.
Devastated over the passing of my friend, colleague and scholar par excellence, Valerie Boyd, the Charlayne Hunter-Gault Professor of Journalism at UGA ‘s Grady College of Journalism . May she be forever with us as she dwells in the land of the Ancestors. Long Live!
— Charlayne H-G (@CharlayneHG) February 14, 2022
A native Atlantan from Collier Heights, Boyd was the daughter of Roger and Laura Boyd. She graduated from Northwestern University’s prestigious Medill School of Journalism and completed a master of fine arts in creative nonfiction from Goucher College.
Boyd leaves a tremendous legacy in publishing and journalism education in addition to her own writing, including:
- HealthQuest, the first national health magazine for African Americans
- EightRock, the Black arts and culture magazine
- Catalyst assistant editor
- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s arts editor
- University of Georgia Press Editor-at-Large
- The Bitter Southerner senior consulting editor
- Co-founder of the Alice Walker Literary Society
- Southern Foodways Alliance board member
- Founder of the Grady College MFA program in narrative nonfiction at the University of Georgia, where she was the Charlayne Hunter-Gault Distinguished Writer in Residence and Associate Professor of Journalism
There are thousands of writers like me, who are getting to live their dreams as writers because #ValerieBoyd didn’t just open the door for us, she kicked down the damn door and then removed it from its hinges so that everyone else could come through. 4/7
— Anjali Enjeti (she/her) (@AnjaliEnjeti) February 13, 2022
Boyd was a noted literary biographer whose Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston (Scribner, 2003) won acclaim for its probing yet sympathetic treatment of the playwright, author, and anthropologist. Wrapped in Rainbows won the Georgia Author of the Year Award in nonfiction, the American Library Association Notable Book Award, and the Southern Book Critics Circle’s Southern Book Award for best nonfiction. In 2017, Prof. Boyd received a Governor’s Award for the Arts and Humanities.
More recently, Boyd edited Alice Walker’s journals (Gathering Blossoms Under Fire: The Journals of Alice Walker, 1965-2000) for Simon and Schuster. Walker herself was instrumental in reclaiming Hurston’s literary works.
It is with deep sadness that we share the news of the death of esteemed writer, journalist, and Charis friend, Valerie Boyd. pic.twitter.com/UEqmE8nWo1
— Charis Books/Circle (@chariscircle) February 13, 2022
Boyd, whose writing also appeared in Atlanta Magazine, Creative Nonfiction, Essence, The Los Angeles Times, Ms. Magazine, The Oxford American, and The Washington Post, among other venues, founded the nation’s first literary journalism MFA program at the University of Georgia. There, she passed along her passion for longform narrative, immersive journalism, and all kinds of reporting that give a story room to breathe.
A sweet goodbye to Valerie Boyd (@valboydwrites), one of the greatest people I’ve ever had come into my life. What did you call me, like a brother and a gay husband? ☺️ I’m grateful for all we shared & I won’t spend a day in this life without thinking about you. Love always! ? pic.twitter.com/DqUKD66BpF
— Craig Seymour, Black gay music critic (@craigspoplife) February 13, 2022
She described the program at UGA this way: “Our program is trying to bridge that false divide between journalism and literature. We are the first MFA program housed at a college of journalism in the country, and our thinking behind that is that journalists can write about anything. Our idea is that we want to equip journalists to write factual literature–literature based in fact and reporting.”
Spent today thinking about #ValerieBoyd who passed away last night. Valerie was a great writer, editor & mentor. She founded the MFA program in narrative nonfiction @UGAGrady. She opened a door for me, and I walked through it, beginning a new life for which I am forever grateful. pic.twitter.com/4z0HTbpfAD
— Mark Shavin (@markshavin) February 14, 2022
In September, a book Boyd edited and to which Walker, Pearl Cleage, Aunjanue Ellis, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, Tayari Jones, Kiese Laymon, Imani Perry, Deesha Philyaw, Khadijah Queen, Jason Reynolds, Karen Good Marable, and other have contributed is due out from Lookout Books: Bigger Than Bravery: Black Resilience and Reclamation in a Time of Pandemic.
- Read this 2015 ArtsAtl story by Gail O’Neill on Boyd, Walker, and Boyd convincing Walker to donate her manuscripts to Emory University’s MARBL Archive.
- Listen to Boyd discuss the work of Zora Neale Hurston on “Art Works” at the National Endowment for the Arts website.