Boyd was born on December 11, 1963, in Atlanta. She obtained her bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in 1985 and her MFA in creative nonfiction from Goucher College in 1999.
Currently, Boyd is an Associate Professor and the Charlayne Hunter-Gault Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia, where she teaches narrative nonfiction writing, as well as arts and literary journalism. She has also taught creative nonfiction in the graduate writing program at Antioch University in Los Angeles. She lives in Atlanta.
An accomplished journalist, Boyd enjoyed a lengthy career at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She began as a copy editor in 1985, worked over the years as a reporter, book critic and line editor, and became Arts Editor in 2001, a position she held until leaving the newspaper in 2004. Her articles, essays and reviews also appear in The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, Ms., Paste, The Oxford American, Book, Essence, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Creative Nonfiction, African American Review and other publications.
Boyd 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, and served as its editor in chief. Boyd is a founding officer of the Alice Walker Literary Society, and currently serves on the board as secretary. Boyd is a former elected board member for the National Book Critics Circle.
Published in 2003, Boyd’s Wrapped in Rainbows was the first biography of author and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston in 25 years. Boyd said she felt a strong connection to the author since first reading Hurston’s novel, “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” during her freshman year at Northwestern University. She describes her experience as feeling called to the challenge of writing Wrapped in Rainbows when she heard Hurston’s first biographer, Robert Hemenway, a white male, speak at the 1994 Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities in Eatonville, Florida. Hemenway suggested it was time for a new biography and this time it needed to be written by a black woman. Written in the style of literary journalism, the book weaves together scene, dialogue, and powerful prose, bringing the remarkable spirit of Hurston to life, while maintaining its accessibility to everyday readers. This is markedly different from the Hemenway biography, which maintains a more academic tone.
The Washington Post declared Wrapped in Rainbows “the definitive Hurston biography for many years to come.” Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker has said of Boyd’s work, “This daughter, Valerie Boyd, has written a biography of Zora Neale Hurston that will be the standard for years to come. Offering vivid splashes of Zora’s colorful humor, daring individualism and refreshing insouciance, Boyd has done justice to a dauntless spirit and heroic life.”
Boyd received the Georgia Author of the Year Award in nonfiction as well as an American Library Association Notable Book Award for her work on Wrapped in Rainbows. The Georgia Center for the Book named it 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.
Boyd travels the United States giving speeches and lectures on the life and legacy of Zora Neale Hurston as a part of the Big Read, a program sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts designed to re-establish reading for pleasure as a popular American pastime.
She is currently finishing up her second book, Spirits in the Dark: The Untold Story of Black Women in Hollywood, which will be published by Knopf. The book will trace the history of African-American women in film and television throughout the 20th century.