Valerie Boyd, the Charlayne Hunter-Gault Distinguished Writer in Residence and director of the master of fine arts in narrative nonfiction program at the University of Georgia, died in Atlanta on February 12. She was 58 years old and had suffered from pancreatic cancer.
A native of Atlanta, Boyd earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. She went on to earn a master of fine arts degree in creative nonfiction from Goucher College in Maryland.
Boyd served as a reporter and later arts editor for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution before joining the academic world in 20o4. She had taught at the University of Georgia since 2007. The master of fine arts program in narrative nonfiction, a low-residency program dedicated to preparing its graduate students for success in publishing, was a vision of Boyd’s for several years before it became a reality at the university in 2015. The program brings students together for intensive instruction for one week each semester and pairs them with professional mentors to collaborate the rest of the semester.
Janice Hume, the Carolyn McKenzie and Don E. Carter Chair for Excellence in Journalism at the University of Georgia, said that Boyd “was a world-class writer who never taught from a pedestal. She met every student where they were. She listened, and she inspired them to write ethically, accurately, and beautifully. With her MFA program, she built a supportive, loving community of mid-career journalists looking to rediscover their voice.”
Boyd was the author of the critically-acclaimed biography, Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston (Virago Press, 2003), which brought her numerous accolades including a Southern Book Award, an American Library Association’s Notable Book Award, and a Georgia Author of the Year Award in nonfiction. She edited the forthcoming volume Gathering Blossoms Under Fire: The Journals of Alice Walker, 1965-2000 (Simon & Schuster, 2022), which is scheduled to be published this spring.