Monday, April 13, 2009

New Book About Langston Hughes


(image: Langston Hughes, 1902-1967)
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If you have any interest in the life and/or work of Langston Hughes, you will likely want to take look at a new collection of essays about both: Montage of a Dream: The Art and Life of Langston Hughes, edited by John Edgar Tidwell and Cheryl R. Ragar.
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Hughes remains one of the most widely read American writers, and he's read by a wide spectrum of people: critics, scholars, middle-schoolers, high-school students, librarians, college students, people not associated with schools, and so on. He is, for example, among the most popular poets on poemhunter.com, which tends to get visited by people who simply like to read poetry. The accessibility of his work, like that of Frost's and Williams's, helps, but so does his indefatigable concern for the lives and circumstances of working people.
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He wrote more than poetry, as essays in this new book remind us: a novel or two; short stories (including the classic collection, The Ways of White Folks, still in print); essays; works for children and young adults; plays; opera libretti; journalism; and criticism).
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Immodesty induces me to mention that I've written two books on Hughes: Langston Hughes: A Study of the Short Fiction and A Langston Hughes Encyclopedia (although let the record show that 8 of the entries in the latter work were contributed by others). His work seems to have survived my books just fine, however. Hughes is resilient that way.
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I also teach his poetry and short fiction (and one essay) regularly in a course on the Harlem Renaissance. Another scholar and I have a friendly running "argument" about which of Hughes's short stories is the best one. He gives the honor to "Father and Son." I have given the honor to "On the Road," but more recently I'm leaning toward "The Blues I'm Playing."
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Both because of the relative clarity and simplicity of his work (especially compared to that of Eliot and Pound, for instance) and because of his steadfast interest in labor-politics, socialist thought, and civil rights, Hughes has not always been held in high esteem by academics, so books like this new one, which broaden and deepen an understanding of this work, are welcome. At the same time, Hughes can take care of himself. People read his work. They just do. Comparisons to Frost and Williams obtain, as do ones to Dickinson, Neruda, Rumi, and Yevtushenko (to name but a few consistently and widely read poets).
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The book is from the University of Missouri Press, which also published Hughes's complete works.
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