American Literature Langston Hughes
by
Vera Kutzinski
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0026

Introduction

Born James Langston Hughes in Joplin, Missouri, Langston Hughes (b. 1902–d. 1967) was likely the most influential writer who emerged from the Harlem Renaissance. He was the first one of this group to establish an enduring national and international reputation. Hughes established his national standing as the “Poet Laureate of the Negro Race” with The Weary Blues and the controversial essay “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” in 1926. By the time he graduated from Lincoln University, Pennsylvania, in 1929, he had published a second volume of poems, Fine Clothes to the Jew (1927). Having lived in Mexico for more than a year as a teenager, by 1929 Hughes had also visited West Africa, France (where he spent several months), and Italy. Extended trips to Haiti, Cuba, the Soviet Union, and Spain followed, as did translations of his poems into Spanish, German, French, Russian, and many other languages. Though best known as a poet, Hughes was a prolific and versatile writer working in numerous literary genres as well as in journalism and popular history. Widely celebrated for his blues poetry and, more recently, for his experimental poems from the 1950s and early 1960s, Hispanic American audiences in particular praised Hughes for his verse influenced by international communism. However, this radical verse landed him in serious trouble at home. In the 1940s and 1950s, Hughes became the target of smear campaigns and FBI surveillance. Although Hughes disavowed his political past in his 1953 publicly broadcast testimony before Joseph McCarthy’s infamous Senate subcommittee, a measure of unease about his communist leanings has lingered in Hughes scholarship in the United States, where his radical poetry from the 1930s has had relatively few admirers and has often been dismissed as propaganda. Ironically, the very simplicity that made his writing accessible to and popular with so many different audiences across the world has also created the notion among too-many scholars that Hughes’s writing lacks literary complexity. As a result, neither his novels nor his autobiographies have met with abundant critical analysis, much less acclaim. Quite in contrast to Hughes’s short fiction, especially the Simple stories from the 1940s and 1950s, these texts have only attracted the critical attention they deserve since the third quarter of the 20th century, and especially in the early 21st century. Similarly, scholars have neglected Hughes’s plays, his translations of writers such as Federico García Lorca and Jacques Roumain, and his extensive journalism. Since the mid-1990s, however, the landscape of Hughes studies has changed significantly as scholars have increasingly challenged the view of Hughes as a straightforward and even shallow writer.

General Overviews

There are fewer scholarly monographs on Hughes than one might expect, given the length of his career and the sheer volume of writing he produced. Comprehensive studies of Hughes’s writings are even rarer because of the difficulty of doing justice to Hughes’s multigenre oeuvre. With the exception of Emanuel 1967 (cited under Biographies) and Barksdale 1977 (cited under Criticism: Poetry), critical overviews of Hughes’s work have thus taken the shape of essay collections. Most valuable among the essay collections are O’Daniel 1971, Tracy 2004, Tidwell and Ragar 2007, and Miller 2013, which offer original scholarship rather than reprints. Collections of reprints, such as Bloom 1989 and especially Bloom 2008, are starting to outlive their usefulness at a time when most journal publications are available in full-text digital formats online. Although technically a reference work, De Santis 2005 (cited under Bibliographies and Other Reference Works) provides by far the most effective historical overview of Hughes’s life and work, through a collage of documents rather than a more linear and univocal scholarly narrative.

Bibliographies and Other Reference Works

Dickinson 1972 and Mikolyzk 1990 offer excellent bibliographical resources for literary work. Each has different merits, and they should be consulted together. Miller 1978 is more limited in scope. While the alphabetical list of poems and their publication information in Dickinson 1972 has been superseded by the detailed notes in Rampersad and Roessel 1995 (cited under Primary Works and Textbooks: Poetry), Donald Dickinson’s notes on Hughes’s shorter prose pieces and his plays remain useful. Unlike R. Baxter Miller, both Dickinson and Thomas Mikolyzk also include foreign-language scholarship. Updated bibliographical information can be gleaned from essays by Dolan Hubbard (in Tracy 2004, cited under General Overviews) and Miller and Hubbard (in Miller 2013, cited under General Overviews). Though hardly complete, each of these bibliographical essays offers useful starting points, especially for undergraduate researchers who may be overwhelmed by Dickinson and Mikolyzk. Mandelik and Schatt 1975 and Neilson 1982 are specialized resources for Hughes scholars, while Dace 1997 has broader applicability, as does De Santis 2005 and Ostrom 2001.

  • Dace, Letitia, ed. Langston Hughes: The Contemporary Reviews. American Critical Archives 10. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

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    This comprehensive collection of reprints of often-hard-to-find reviews of Hughes’s work in English-language venues has great value for anyone who studies the reception history of Hughes’s work over several decades. Likely based on the first thorough inventory of book reviews in Dickinson 1972.

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  • De Santis, Christopher C., ed. Langston Hughes: A Documentary Volume. Dictionary of Literary Biography 315. Detroit: Thomson Gale, 2005.

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    This handsome, one-of-a-kind folio edition offers excerpts from many Hughes works, along with archival material from the Langston Hughes Papers and the Langston Hughes Collection at Yale, the Langston Hughes Collection, 1926–1967, and the Langston Hughes Collection, 1929–1967 (all cited under Archives), such as letters, manuscript pages, and rare photographs. Also includes short book reviews and other historical material. Indispensable resource for teachers and researchers at all levels.

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  • Dickinson, Donald C. A Bio-bibliography of Langston Hughes, 1902–1967. 2d ed. Hamden, CT: Archon, 1972.

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    Based on Dickinson’s 1964 Michigan doctoral dissertation and originally published in 1967, this is the first comprehensive Hughes bibliography. The revised edition includes items in English and foreign languages up to 1969. It remains very useful despite its age.

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  • Mandelik, Peter, and Stanley Schatt, comp. A Concordance to the Poetry of Langston Hughes. Detroit: Gale Research, 1975.

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    Extremely handy in the absence of a searchable database of all of Hughes’s poems, even if it does not include any of the children’s poems from The Langston Hughes Reader and relies on revised (that is, largely dialect free) versions of Hughes’s poetry. Also has a summary of word frequencies.

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  • Mikolyzk, Thomas A., comp. Langston Hughes: A Bio-bibliography. Bio-bibliographies in Afro-American and African Studies 2. New York: Greenwood, 1990.

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    Outstanding annotated bibliography of primary and secondary sources. A brief biographical note provides a solid introduction to Hughes’s life and his relations with other authors, especially for undergraduate readers. Particularly useful is the inclusion of a section on Hughes’s shorter works. Arranged alphabetically, not chronologically.

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  • Miller, R. Baxter. Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks: A Reference Guide. Reference Publications in Literature. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1978.

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    The first annotated Hughes bibliography. Its chronological organization (1924–1977) facilitates a historical view of Hughes scholarship. Particularly informative about articles and book chapters on Hughes’s work. Unlike Mikolyzk 1990, however, it includes neither primary works nor MA and PhD theses.

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  • Neilson, Kenneth P. The World of Langston Hughes’ Music: A Bibliography of Musical Settings of Langston Hughes’ Work with Recordings and Other Listings. Hollis, NY: All Seasons Art, 1982.

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    Organized by composer, recording artist and record information, and title of the poem, this volume is indispensable to anyone with an interest in the topic. Neilson published a Supplement to his bibliography in 2008.

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  • Ostrom, Hans A. A Langston Hughes Encyclopedia. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2001.

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    Alphabetical notes on Hughes’s works, ranging from individual poems, short stories, and essays to songs, collections, and translations. Also included are figures relevant to Hughes, be they fellow writers, composers, or politicians, and entries on special topics, such as sexuality, that offer succinct introductions to critical debates. Useful for undergraduates.

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Biographies

In the mid- to late 1980s, earlier biographies of Hughes, among them Dickinson 1972 (cited under Bibliographies and Other Reference Works), Meltzer 1968, Emanuel 1967, and even Berry 1983, were summarily replaced by Arnold Rampersad’s landmark two-volume account of Hughes’s life (Rampersad 1986 and Rampersad 1988). Absent from Rampersad’s narrative is Hughes’s so-called executive (that is, secret) testimony before the McCarthy Committee in 1953, the transcript of which was not released until 2003 (De Santis 2005, cited under Bibliographies and Other Reference Works, includes an excerpt). Studies that analyze this important transcript in relation to Hughes’s public testimony before McCarthy are Kutzinski 2012 (cited under Criticism: Autobiographies) and Chinitz 2013 (cited under Hughes and Modernism). Beyond the biography on the website of the American Poetry Foundation, which also has a good bibliography, article-length biographies of Hughes for use in undergraduate teaching can be found in almost all essay collections (see especially Donna Akiba Sullivan Harper in Miller 2013, cited under General Overviews) and also in the bibliographies. Although later biographies written for general audiences, including children and young adults, tend to be mere digests of available information about Hughes, Wallace 2008 is nonetheless noteworthy for being concise, readable, and informative.

  • Berry, Faith. Langston Hughes: Before and beyond Harlem. Westport, CT: Lawrence Hill, 1983.

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    This very readable biography is the first to use material from the Langston Hughes Papers (cited under Archives) at Yale, as well as government material on Hughes obtained via the Freedom of Information Act.

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  • Emanuel, James A. Langston Hughes. Twayne’s United States Authors 123. New York: Twayne, 1967.

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    Biographical readings of Hughes’s writings, notably his poetry, with an emphasis on his historical consciousness and his arguable return to an African heritage. A readable introduction that includes some archival material as well as interviews the author conducted with Hughes. Rather dated as a piece of scholarship.

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  • Meltzer, Milton. Langston Hughes: A Biography. New York: Crowell, 1968.

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    An anecdotal biography from a close associate of Hughes’s who had access to only some personal files. Meltzer and Hughes coedited Black Magic: A Pictorial History of the Negro in American Entertainment (1967), their second editorial collaboration since A Pictorial History of the Negro in America (1956).

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  • Rampersad, Arnold. The Life of Langston Hughes. Vol. 1, 1902–1941. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.

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    Together with Rampersad 1988, the first hefty volume of this exemplary Hughes biography significantly raised the standards for Hughes scholarship by providing meticulously researched, reliable biographical information. Rampersad’s work has, however, often been criticized for its silence on the question of Hughes’s sexuality. Second edition, with the volume title 1902–1941: I, Too, Sing America, published in 2002.

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  • Rampersad, Arnold. The Life of Langston Hughes. Vol. 2, 1941–1967: I Dream a World. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

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    Based on exhaustive archival work in the Langston Hughes Papers (cited under Archives) at Yale, the second volume of this prize-winning biography completes what will remain the gold standard of Hughes biographies for decades to come. Second edition published in 2002.

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  • Thomas, Nigel H. “Patronage and the Writing of Langston Hughes’s Not without Laughter: A Paradoxical Case.” CLA Journal 42.1 (1998): 48–70.

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    An illuminating, biographically based examination of Hughes’s fraught relationship with his patron, Charlotte Mason, which was a formative episode in his early career as a writer. Reprinted in Bloom 2008 (cited under General Overviews).

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  • Wallace, Maurice O. Langston Hughes: The Harlem Renaissance. Writers and Their Works. New York: Marshall Cavendish Benchmark, 2008.

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    A well-written, amply illustrated short biography for younger readers that is also suitable for high-school students and those beginning college. Wallace includes a useful brief bibliography of Hughes’s works and on Hughes, with particular attention to nonprint media.

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  • Williams, Regennia N., and Carmaletta M. Williams. “Mother to Son: The Letters from Carrie Hughes Clark to Langston Hughes, 1928–1938.” In Montage of a Dream: The Art and Life of Langston Hughes. Edited by John Edgar Tidwell and Cheryl R. Ragar, 106–124. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2007.

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    An in-depth essay on important family correspondence discovered in the Langston Hughes Papers (cited under Archives) at Yale and published in Williams and Tidwell 2013 (cited under Correspondence).

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Correspondence

Hughes was a prodigious letter writer with correspondents all over the world. Helpfully, he kept carbon copies of most of his typed letters. Scholars began publishing selections from Hughes’s letters from the Langston Hughes Papers (cited under Archives) at the Beinecke Library at Yale in 1980. Nichols 1990 and Bernard 2001 focus on Hughes’s early writerly friendships within the United States, while Moore 2010 and Graham and Walters 2010 shed light on the professional contacts Hughes had with African writers and musicians. Especially valuable for scholars interested in Hughes’s Cuban connections are Augier 1995–1996 and Pérez Heredia 2002, though neither collection of letters is complete. Williams and Tidwell 2013 concentrates on Hughes’s familial correspondence. These publications, from the late 20th century onward, show that Hughes’s seemingly inexhaustible archive is still being mined.

Journals

A biannual journal first published in 1982, Langston Hughes Review is the official publication of the Langston Hughes Society, which was founded in 1981 by Therman B. O’Daniel and others.

Special Journal Issues

Many African American journals, including Freedomways, Black Scholar, and CLA Journal, have featured Hughes over time, sometimes more than once. In addition to special issues (such as Miller 1981) and special sections on Hughes, there have also been a number of notable special-topic issues of Langston Hughes Review, including a 1985 special issue on Hughes in translation and Hughes as translator (Langston Hughes Review 4.2). Of particular import for scholars interested in Hughes in a transatlantic framework are Diop and Yandé 1967 and Rowell 2002.

Primary Works and Textbooks

Hughes is the author of forty-eight books, editor or coeditor of nine anthologies, and translator or cotranslator of five book-length texts from Spanish and French. Dickinson 1972 and Mikolyzk 1990 (both cited under Bibliographies and Other Reference Works) provide detailed inventories of these publications, even if neither is entirely complete, especially with regard to translations by and of Hughes. The year 2001 marked the publication of the inaugural volumes of the Collected Works of Langston Hughes, a series edited for the University of Missouri Press by Arnold Rampersad, Hughes’s official biographer and executor of Hughes’s estate after the death of George Houston Bass in 1990. Sixteen volumes were published between 2001 and 2004. While the majority of the volumes in the Collected Works series qualify as standard editions of Hughes’s work, teachers of undergraduates and graduate courses may prefer less expensive print editions, such as Hughes 1981 (cited under Collections) and Hughes 1990 (cited under Primary Works and Textbooks: Poetry). There are few electronic editions of Hughes’s writings as of this writing.

Collections

There are very few multigenre collections of Hughes’s work that range across all his writings. Useful collections of excerpts are Hughes 1981, which is still in print, Berry 1992 (cited under Primary Works and Textbooks: Nonfiction), and De Santis 2005 (cited under Bibliographies and Other Reference Works).

Poetry

Not counting The Dream Keeper (1932), a poetry collection intended specifically for young audiences, Hughes published sixteen volumes of poetry during his lifetime. The best known of those are The Weary Blues (1926), Fine Clothes to the Jew (1927), Montage of a Dream Deferred (1951), and Ask Your Mama (1961). Although it included most of Hughes’s celebrated blues poems, Fine Clothes was also Hughes’s most controversial book because of its troubling portraits of an urban black underclass of blues singers, gamblers, prostitutes, pimps, and drug addicts. With the exception of Hughes 1990, Hughes 1992, and Hughes 1996 (the latter cited under Primary Works and Textbooks: Juvenilia), none of Hughes’s individual books of poems are now available in print. They can be found only in special collections and are occasionally for sale as collector’s items. Three excellent volumes, Rampersad 2001a, Rampersad 2001b, and Rampersad 2001c, reproduce the complete texts of most of Hughes’s books of poems, though without any of the original illustrations. But they are too pricy for teaching purposes. The best edition both for teaching and research is Rampersad and Roessel 1995. Hughes 1990 is also an option for undergraduate courses, as long as students are aware that Hughes revised many of the poems for this 1959 edition to remove his earlier vernacular diction.

  • Hughes, Langston. Selected Poems of Langston Hughes. Vintage Classics. New York: Vintage, 1990.

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    Originally published in 1959 and edited by Hughes himself, this volume includes previously unpublished verse along with revised versions of many earlier poems, in which Hughes changed his diction from African American vernacular to more-standardized forms of US American English. Kindle edition available.

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  • Hughes, Langston. The Panther and the Lash: Poems of Our Times. Vintage Classics. New York: Vintage, 1992.

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    The last poetry volume Hughes published before his death. It contains poems in which he tried to situate himself in relation to the Black Arts movement and is typically regarded as one of his weaker efforts.

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  • Rampersad, Arnold, ed. The Collected Works of Langston Hughes. Vol. 1, The Poems, 1921–1940. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2001a.

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    Reproduces The Weary Blues, Fine Clothes to the Jew, Dear Lovely Death (1931), and A New Song (1938) in Hughes’s original arrangements. Also includes uncollected poems. Excluded are Scottsboro Limited (1932) and The Negro Mother and Other Dramatic Recitations (1931), both published as inexpensive editions for Hughes’s reading tours.

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  • Rampersad, Arnold, ed. The Collected Works of Langston Hughes. Vol. 2, The Poems, 1941–1950. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2001b.

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    Includes Shakespeare in Harlem (1942), Jim Crow’s Last Stand (1943), Fields of Wonder (1947), One-Way Ticket (1949), and uncollected poems from this period. Omits the book-length prose poem Freedom’s Plow (1943).

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  • Rampersad, Arnold, ed. The Collected Works of Langston Hughes. Vol. 3, The Poems, 1951–1967. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2001c.

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    Reproduces Montage of a Dream Deferred, Ask Your Mama, The Panther and the Lash (1967), and many uncollected poems from this time period. Has cumulative indexes of first lines and titles for all three volumes.

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  • Rampersad, Arnold, and David Roessel, eds. The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. Vintage Classics. New York: Vintage, 1995.

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    First published in 1994, this edition is the single most useful collection of Hughes’s poems because it includes detailed notes on each poem’s publication history and revisions. Because the poems are arranged chronologically, however, the order in which Hughes had placed them in his early publications is lost.

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Autobiographies

The standard editions of Hughes’s two autobiographies, The Big Sea (1940) and I Wonder as I Wander (1956), are McLaren 2002 and McLaren 2003, of which e-brary digital versions are available at universities that subscribe to this data service. For those who prefer print books for teaching purposes, Hughes 1993 and Hughes 1995 would be the editions to use.

  • Hughes, Langston. The Big Sea: An Autobiography. American Century. New York: Hill and Wang, 1993.

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    This paperback edition published in Hill and Wang’s American Century series includes the full text and a thorough introduction by Arnold Rampersad, Hughes’s official biographer. No electronic version is available. Suitable for graduate and undergraduate courses alike.

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  • Hughes, Langston. I Wonder as I Wander: An Autobiographical Journey. American Century. New York: Hill and Wang, 1995.

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    This paperback edition published in Hill and Wang’s American Century series includes the full text and a detailed biographical introduction by Arnold Rampersad. No electronic version is available. Appropriate both for graduate and undergraduate courses.

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  • McLaren, Joseph, ed. The Collected Works of Langston Hughes. Vol. 13: Autobiography: The Big Sea. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2002.

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    Reproduces the text of the first edition (New York: Knopf, 1940), along with an informative introduction.

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  • McLaren, Joseph, ed. The Collected Works of Langston Hughes. Vol. 14, Autobiography: I Wonder as I Wander. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2003.

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    Reproduces the text of the first edition (New York: Knopf, 1956), with a substantial introduction.

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Short Fiction

Between 1934 and 1965, Hughes published seven short-story collections, four of them in his popular Simple series. Most of them are still in print. The standard editions of many of Hughes’s short stories are Harper 2002a and Harper 2002b as well as Miller 2002, of which digital versions are available. For those who prefer to use paper editions, there are Hughes 1990a and Hughes 1990b, both reprints of collections Hughes himself edited, as well as Hughes 1995, Harper 2000, and especially Harper 1997, which is the most comprehensive of these paperback anthologies.

Novels

The standard edition of Hughes’s two novels, Not without Laughter (1930) and Tambourines to Glory (1958), is Hubbard 2001. A digital version of the latter is available at universities that subscribe to certain data bundles. For those who prefer to use paper editions, Hughes 2006 and Hughes 2012 would work nicely for all levels of graduate and undergraduate courses, now that Hughes 1969 is largely unavailable. Hughes 2008, though the most economical of the available paper editions, is not a reprint but is newly set and less reader friendly as a result.

Nonfiction

The author of the much-discussed “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain,” published in The Nation in mid-1926, was a prodigious writer of essays and journalistic pieces, most prominently in the pages of Baltimore Afro-American and the Chicago Defender. Following in the footsteps of Berry 1992, the first volume to collect Hughes’s controversial political writings, Christopher De Santis has done the field of Hughes studies a remarkable service by bringing together almost all these neglected writings and making them available both in print and electronically (see De Santis 1995, De Santis 2001, and De Santis 2002). With the exception of Baldwin 2002 (cited under Criticism: Nonfiction), scholars have thus far ignored Hughes 2006, a slender volume of Hughes’s early travel writings from his journey within the Asian provinces of the former Soviet Union.

  • Berry, Faith, ed. Good Morning Revolution: Uncollected Writings of Social Protest. Secaucus, NJ: Carol, 1992.

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    Multigenre collection that includes thirteen essays and ten newspaper columns, many of the former written by Hughes during the 1930s, the radical phase of his career. Also includes poetry from that period. Excellent volume for teaching purposes.

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  • De Santis, Christopher C., ed. Langston Hughes and the Chicago Defender: Essays on Race, Politics, and Culture, 1942–62. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995.

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    This collection is the basis for De Santis 2002, but the focus of this volume is narrower. E-book available.

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  • De Santis, Christopher C., ed. The Collected Works of Langston Hughes. Vol. 10, Fight for Freedom and Other Writings on Civil Rights. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2001.

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    Hughes collaborated with Milton Meltzer on Fight for Freedom: The Story of the NAACP (1962). E-book available.

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  • De Santis, Christopher C., ed. The Collected Works of Langston Hughes. Vol. 9, Essays on Art, Race, Politics and World Affairs. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2002.

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    The most comprehensive collection of Hughes’s journalistic writings to date. E-book available.

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  • Hughes, Langston. A Negro Looks at Soviet Central Asia. Edited by David Mikosz. Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan: Al Salam Printhouse, 2006.

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    A reprint of Hughes’s short 1934 volume, which was initially published in Moscow. Difficult to obtain in print. This record of Hughes’s travels in Soviet Central Asia in the early 1930s remains unavailable in print in the United States but can be found on the web.

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Drama

Hughes wrote twenty-six plays, the best known of which remains the Broadway hit Mulatto (1931). These plays, along with Hughes’s opera librettos, lyrics for musicals, and radio plays, are collected in Sanders 2002 and Sanders 2004, which are the standard editions of these works. Both Smalley 1963, which is still in print, and Duffy 2000 are good teaching editions that, especially when used in tandem, give a solid sense of the topical range of Hughes’s dramatic writing, from more-traditional African American folk themes to treatments of contemporaneous political events. Hughes 2006, a reprint that neither Smalley 1963 nor Duffy 2000 includes, is the only gospel play available in an affordable teaching edition. Hughes and Hurston 2008, a fine edition of Mule Bone, Hughes’s troubled collaboration with Zora Neale Hurston, fills an important gap because this play, to which Hurston laid sole authorship claim, is not typically included in any Hughes collections. While De Santis 2005 (cited under Bibliographies and Other Reference Works) offers some information on the actual productions of Hughes’s plays, Still, et al. 2006 is an excellent example of the multifaceted historical contexts in which Hughes’s writings for performance were embedded.

  • Duffy, Susan, ed. The Political Plays of Langston Hughes. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2000.

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    The focus of this collection is on Hughes the 1930s labor activist. Duffy provides playscripts, biographical background, and analyses of four of Hughes’s lesser-known plays: Scottsboro Limited (1932), Harvest (1934), Angelo Herndon Jones (1935), and De Organizer (1938).

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  • Hughes, Langston. Tambourines to Glory. New York: Harlem Moon, 2006.

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    This reprint edition of the gospel play based on Hughes’s eponymous second novel is suitable for teaching at all levels.

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  • Hughes, Langston, and Zora Neale Hurston. Mule Bone: A Comedy of Negro Life. Edited by George Houston Bass and Henry Louis Gates Jr. New York: HarperPerennial, 2008.

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    This edition of Mule Bone (1931), the play on which Hughes and Hurston collaborated and over which they famously fell out, is a good teaching tool that includes prefaces by Bass and Gates, Hurston’s story “The Bone of Contention,” letters, and scholarly accounts of the controversy.

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  • Sanders, Leslie Catherine, ed. The Collected Works of Langston Hughes. Vol. 5, The Plays to 1942: Mulatto to The Sun Do Move. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2002.

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    Includes fifteen plays from the sources found in the Langston Hughes Papers (cited under Archives) at Yale. Detailed introduction but rather cursory notes. E-book available.

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  • Sanders, Leslie Catherine, ed. The Collected Works of Langston Hughes. Vol. 6, Gospel Plays, Operas, and Later Dramatic Works. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2004.

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    Includes five operas, five musicals, four gospel plays, radio plays, librettos, and lyrics from musicals.

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  • Smalley, Webster, ed. Five Plays by Langston Hughes. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1963.

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    This excellent edition from the university press for which Hughes translated Gabriela Mistral’s poetry includes Mulatto (1931), Soul Gone Home (1937), Little Ham (1935), Tambourines to Glory (1956), and Simply Heavenly (1959), a musical comedy based on the short stories from Simple Takes a Wife (1956).

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  • Still, William Grant, Judith Anne Still, and Lisa M. Headlee-Huffman. Just Tell the Story: Troubled Island; A Collection of Documents Previously Published and Unpublished, Pertaining to the First Significant Afro-American Grand Opera, Troubled Island, by William Grant Still, with Librettists Langston Hughes and Verna Arvey. Flagstaff, AZ: Master-Player Library, 2006.

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    An absorbing case study about the first opera written by an African American composer, William Grant Still, through original sources. The opera was based on Hughes’s play of the same title, and he cowrote the libretto. Though Hughes had begun Troubled Island in 1928, it was not staged until 1949.

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Juvenilia

Hughes published twelve books for children and young adults, three of them posthumously: Black Misery (1969), for which Hughes wrote captions that he completed just before his death in 1967, The Sweet and Sour Animal Book (1994), and The Pasteboard Bandit (1994). All three are included in Johnson 2003, along with the bulk of Hughes’s other writings for young audiences. Tracy 2002 includes uncorrected versions of three of Hughes’s biographies for young readers. Although Hughes had originally intended The Dream Keeper (1932) for younger readers, this collection has historically also found resonance with many adult audiences. It is worth remembering that these poems, available in Hughes 1996, were written alongside Hughes’s politically radical poetry in the 1930s. Wallace 2008 (cited under Biographies) and Roessel and Rampersad 2013 are the best among what appears to be a veritable flood of new publications about Hughes that target young adult readers, from students in elementary school to high school and even those beginning college.

  • Hughes, Langston. The Dream Keeper and Other Poems. New York: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 1996.

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    Aimed at a preteen readers, this new edition of the original 1932 text, beautifully illustrated by Brian Pinkney, includes seven additional poems, among them “Daybreak in Alabama” and “Merry-Go-Round.” First published in 1994.

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  • Johnson, Dianne, ed. The Collected Works of Langston Hughes. Vol. 11, Works for Children and Young Adults: Poetry, Fiction, and Other Writing. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2003.

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    Includes Popo and Fifina (1932), The Dream Keeper (1932), The First Book of Negroes (1952), The First Book of Rhythms (1954), The First Book of Jazz (1955), The First Book of the West Indies (1955), and The First Book of Africa (1960). Uncollected poems and three posthumously published books are also included.

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  • Roessel, David, and Arnold Rampersad, eds. Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes. New York: Sterling Children’s Books, 2013.

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    First published in 2006, this collection of twenty-six poems, beautifully illustrated by Benny Andrews, is aimed at elementary school readers. It includes such early Hughes poems as “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” “I, Too,” “Merry-Go-Round,” “Homesick Blues,” and “Dream Variations.”

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  • Tracy, Steven C., ed. The Collected Works of Langston Hughes. Vol. 12, Works for Children and Young Adults: Biographies. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2002.

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    Includes Famous American Negroes (1954), Famous American Music Makers (1955), and Famous Negro Heroes of America (1958), all originally published by Dodd, Mead. The introduction provides a good overview.

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Translations by Hughes

Except for his commissioned translations of select poems by the 1945 Chilean Nobel Prize winner Gabriela Mistral (see Hughes 1957), most of Hughes’s six book-length English translations of Spanish and French literary works were collaborations, be it with scholars such as Ben Frederic Carruthers (see Hughes and Carruthers 1948) and Mercer Cook (see Hughes and Cook 1997) or with fellow writers (see Hughes 1951 and Hughes and Merwin 1994). Publishers and scholars have not always acknowledged these collaborations. Hughes also translated many poems for anthologies. Given that Martin-Orgunsola 2003 includes fewer than half of Hughes’s longer translations, it cannot count as a standard scholarly edition of his translations.

Hughes in Translation

Since the later 1920s, Hughes’s writings have been translated into many languages, including Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Italian, Russian, Uzbek, Hungarian, Serbo-Croatian, and Japanese. The language into which Hughes’s poetry and prose have been translated most frequently is Spanish.

Spanish-Language Translations

Translations of Hughes’s writings, notably his poetry, have circulated widely in the Hispanic Americas and in Spain, mainly in journals and newspapers since the late 1920s. Spanish versions of Hughes’s short stories Laughing to Keep from Crying (Hughes 1955), his novel Not without Laughter (Hughes 1945), his play Mulatto (Hughes 1954), his poems (Gáler 1952), and his autobiographies (Hughes 1944 and Hughes 1959) were published in Argentina in the 1940s and 1950s. A second translation of the popular play Mulatto (Hughes 1992) and a second collection of Hughes poems (Cruzado and Hricko 2004) were published in Spain more recently. New translations of Hughes’s work into Spanish are still appearing.

Translations into Other Languages

Given Hughes’s international prominence and the fact that he remains the best-known and most widely appreciated African American poet from the United States to date, it is unsurprising that his work has also inspired translations into languages other than Spanish since the mid-20th century, notably Portuguese (Hughes 1944, Martins 1970), French (Dodat 1964), Italian (Piccinato 1968), and, most recently, Uzbek (Hughes 2002). In some cases, notably Germany, translations of Hughes’s poems appeared as early as 1929 (see Elrod 2002). The items in this section are a small selection of translations into major European languages.

Texts of Hughes’s McCarthy Testimonies

In the spring of 1953, Hughes was compelled to testify before the notorious McCarthy Committee not once but twice—once in secret and once in public. This fact was not publically known until the transcripts of the secret, so-called Executive Sessions of that committee were released in 2003 (see US Congress 2003). The two testimonies are vastly different from each other. The longer secret testimony sheds much light on this set of major traumatic events in Hughes’s life, events that affected his personal and professional reputation. The briefer radio-broadcast hearing, in which Hughes famously disavowed some of his radical poetry and his communist politics, was carefully stage-managed by McCarthy and his committee (for an official transcript, see US Congress 1963). The transcripts of these testimonies are also important as a historical record of institutionalized political censorship in Cold War America.

Archives

The major repositories of materials by and about Hughes are the Langston Hughes Collection and the Langston Hughes Papers at Yale University as well as Langston Hughes Collection, 1929–1967 and Langston Hughes Collection, 1926–1967 at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, which is part of the New York Public Library system. Among the noteworthy smaller repositories are the Special Collections Papers of Langston Hughes at the University of Virginia Library at Charlottesville. Other archives not listed in this section are at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University in Washington, DC; at Fisk University Library in Nashville, Tennessee; at the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley; and at the Library of Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. The archives of some older Hughes scholars, especially the Faith Berry Papers and the James A. Emanuel Papers, as well as the papers of Hughes’s literary agent, Maxim Lieber, at the Huntington Library (see Papers of Langston Hughes, 1910–1976) are also important resources for researchers. Though more limited in scope, the NAACP’s microfilms (Bracey 1993) are of special value as a record of the difficulties Hughes experienced in the 1940s and 1950s as a result of smear campaigns that branded him a “Commie.”

Criticism

Although Hughes also wrote plays, novels, short fiction, and nonfiction, most academic scholarship on him has focused on his poetry, especially on his earliest collections, The Weary Blues (1926) and Fine Clothes to the Jew (1927). Hughes scholars have traditionally commented on the blues poems in these two volumes, typically to the exclusion of Hughes’s brief modernist lyrics on topics other than race and his so-called radical verse from the 1930s. Both kinds of Hughes poems have undergone serious critical reevaluations since the late 20th century. Readers have always admired the simplicity of Hughes’s poems. At the same time, however, many critics found the same supposed plainness frustrating in Hughes’s two autobiographies, interpreting it as a sign of shallowness in place of expected self-revelation. The result has been a dearth of rigorous analyses of The Big Sea (1930) and I Wonder as I Wander (1956). Scholars were also slow to turn to Hughes’s short fiction. The Ways of White Folks (1934) and the Simple stories (1950–1965) are the only short-story collections to have received any substantive treatment. Of Hughes’s two novels, only Not without Laughter (1930) has garnered some scholarly attention, while the novelistic version of Tambourines to Glory (1958) has been almost completely ignored. Along with his writings for young readers, Hughes’s plays as well as his journalism, travel writing, and other nonfiction prose have, until the early 21st century, experienced similar neglect. Since the mid-1990s, Hughes’s later poetry, especially Montage of a Dream Deferred (1951) and Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz (1961), has inspired numerous long-overdue studies of Hughes as a modernist writer. Such studies have had an overall salutary impact on Hughes scholarship. Increased critical sensitivity to literary constructions of gender and sexuality in the context of race relations has also benefited Hughes studies by drawing scholars to many of his writings that had previously been marginalized.

Poetry

The systematic study of Hughes’s lyrics as blues and jazz poetry began with Wagner 1973 (cited under Criticism: Autobiographies) and was developed in Jemie 1976 and, to a lesser extent, in Barksdale 1977. Jemie 1976 also usefully reflects on Hughes’s poems in the context of the immediate aftermath of the Black Arts and Black Power movements. Both Jemie 1976 and Barksdale 1977 remain useful as the first comprehensive studies of Hughes’s poetry. In its attention to Hughes’s early poems in relation to the blues music, Jemie 1976 provided a foundation for the scholarship in Tracy 1988, Scanlon 2002, Dawahare 2002 (cited under Hughes as Political Writer), and Jones 2002. See 2009 (cited under Hughes, Gender, and Sexuality) astutely relates Hughes’s crossing of genres and of economic and racial lines in The Weary Blues to crossings of the lines that divide genders and sexualities. Woods 1993, Borden 1994, Ponce 2005, and Evans 2006 (all cited under Hughes, Gender, and Sexuality) are notable among the works that offer queer readings of Hughes’s early poems. There has been growing interest in Shakespeare in Harlem (1942), Montage of a Dream Deferred (1951), and the 800-line-long Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz (1961), which Scanlon 2002 brings into fascinating conversation with the vernacular of Hughes’s early poems and Patterson 2000 productively situates in the context of transatlantic modernisms (see Hughes and Modernism). Hughes’s so-called protest poems from the 1930s have also been reappraised since the late 20th century (see Ford 1996 and Miller 2011; also see Hughes as Political Writer). For other scholarship on Hughes’s poetry, see Edwards 2007, Gohar 2008, Patterson 2008, and Dworkin 2012 (all cited under Hughes, Diaspora, and Black Internationalism).

  • Barksdale, Richard K. Langston Hughes: The Poet and His Critics. The Poet and His Critics. Chicago: American Library Association, 1977.

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    Organized chronologically with a detailed index, this study combines biography and scholarship about the critical response to Hughes’s poetry over the course of the almost fifty years of his career. A useful survey.

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  • Ford, Karen Jackson. “Making Poetry Pay: The Commodification of Langston Hughes.” In Marketing Modernisms: Self-Promotion, Canonization, Rereading. Edited by Kevin J. H. Dettmar and Stephen Watt, 275–296. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996.

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    A rare and important essay on the many ways in which Hughes revised his poems for different audiences and publication venues.

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  • Jemie, Onwuchekwa. Langston Hughes: An Introduction to the Poetry. Columbia Introductions to Twentieth-Century American Poetry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1976.

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    This first book-length study of Hughes’s poetry in English, which is based on Jemie’s 1972 doctoral dissertation, remains a valuable introduction. Jemie, who ranks Hughes as a poet on a par with Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Ezra Pound, and T. S. Eliot, focuses on the role that black folk forms and music played as models for Hughes’s poetry.

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  • Jones, Meta DuEwa. “Listening to What the Ear Demands: Langston Hughes and His Critics.” Callaloo 25.4 (2002): 1145–1175.

    DOI: 10.1353/cal.2002.0154Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Compelling argument that Hughes’s image as a poet whose reputation is built on authentic rendering of African American vernacular and musical forms has limited critical accounts of his aesthetics. Examines the role vocal instrumentality and performance have played in Hughes’s jazz aesthetic in Montage of a Dream Deferred and Ask Your Mama.

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  • Miller, W. Jason. Langston Hughes and American Lynching Culture. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2011.

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    Places Hughes’s verse at the center of discussions of US lynching culture and offers detailed readings of “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” Scottsboro Limited, “Christ in Alabama,” and other poems. Miller’s historical research, however, especially about Hughes’s McCarthy testimonies, is riddled with errors. He seems unaware that there were two different hearings and confuses the transcript of one for the other.

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  • Patterson, Anita Haya. “Jazz, Realism, and the Modernist Lyric: The Poetry of Langston Hughes.” Modern Language Quarterly 61.4 (2000): 651–682.

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    Showing how modernist experiments in poems such as “Dream Boogie” are inconsistent with Hughes’s earlier lyric realism, Patterson argues that Hughes’s poetry challenges critical distinctions between “realism” and the “avant-garde.” Connects Hughes’s jazz poetics to Anglo-modernist critiques of romantic cultural nationalism.

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  • Scanlon, Larry. “News from Heaven: Vernacular Time in Langston Hughes’s Ask Your Mama.” Callaloo 25.1 (2002): 45–65.

    DOI: 10.1353/cal.2002.0042Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    One of the most exciting essays on the vernacular modes Hughes employed in his poetry. Contrary to the view that any vernacular signals self-sufficiency, Scanlon argues that it is its incompletion that makes the vernacular an especially efficacious vehicle for appropriating and redefining other literary traditions.

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  • Tracy, Steven C. Langston Hughes and the Blues. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988.

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    This well-written and amply documented revision of Tracy’s 1985 doctoral dissertation concentrates on the influence of the blues on Hughes’s poetry, his fiction, and his editorial work. Includes splendid readings of many of Hughes’s blues poems and a thorough discussion of the “folk roots” of African American culture. Indispensable.

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Autobiographies

From the time of their first publication, Hughes’s two autobiographies have been criticized for the seeming shallowness more than they have been praised for their literary accomplishments. Yet, prior to the granting of public access to the Langston Hughes Papers (cited under Archives) at Yale University and the publication of Rampersad 1986 and Rampersad 1988 (both cited under Biographies), many Hughes scholars relied on precisely these autobiographies for biographical information about Hughes. Wagner 1973 is among the earliest studies to use Hughes’s autobiographies as bases for the author’s largely biographical readings of Hughes’s poetry. What little analyses now exist of The Big Sea and, even less so, of I Wonder as I Wander have questioned the dominant critical perception of Hughes’s prose as plain and straightforward, commenting instead on the art of concealment in which he engages. The first essay to do so is Miller 1984. There is not necessarily any consensus about what exactly it is that Hughes conceals. Gardullo 2004 argues that it is his continued attachment to radical politics, while Barrett 1999, Loftus 2000, Bennett 2000, and Bennett 2007 (the latter two cited under Hughes, Gender, and Sexuality) focus on suppressed sexuality. Related arguments about literary disguise highlight Hughes’s eccentric approach to self-writing in Chester 2009 and Kutzinski 2012. McLaren 2013 takes existing arguments about Hughes’s autobiographical style in an internationalist direction. See also Sanders 1997 (cited under Criticism: Drama).

  • Barrett, Lindon. “The Gaze of Langston Hughes: Subjectivity, Homoeroticism, and the Feminine in The Big Sea.” Yale Journal of Criticism: Interpretation in the Humanities 12.2 (1999): 383–397.

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    Argues that the homoerotic, the feminine, and race share social imperatives irreducible to the terms of queerness, femininity, or blackness, and that realizing this is far more important than whatever one may believe about Hughes’s own carefully guarded sexuality. Important argument but difficult for readers unaccustomed to trade jargon.

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  • Chester, Dennis. “Modernism, African American Autobiography, and Langston Hughes’s The Big Sea.” Langston Hughes Review 23 (2009): 42–48.

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    Examines the relationship between African American autobiography, including the late Jim Crow narratives, and modernism to show how Hughes experimented with different approaches to self-representation.

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  • Gardullo, Paul. “Heading Out for the Big Sea: Hughes, Haiti and Constructions of Diaspora in Cold War America.” Langston Hughes Review 18.1 (2004): 56–67.

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    Uses a close reading of how Hughes narrates his encounter with Haitian writer Jacques Roumain in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, from I Wonder as I Wander to challenge the idea that Hughes disengaged from radical politics in the 1950s.

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  • Kutzinski, Vera M. The Worlds of Langston Hughes: Modernism and Translation in the Americas. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012.

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    A lengthy first chapter analyzes scenes of translation in Hughes’s autobiographies and the importance of translation to the ways in which Hughes, as a reluctant autobiographer, fashions multiple literary personae instead of projecting a familiar and graspable unified self.

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  • Loftus, Brian. “In/verse Autobiography: Sexual (In)difference and the Textual Backside of Langston Hughes’s The Big Sea.” In Special Issue: Autobiographical Que(e)ries. Auto/Biography Studies 15.1 (2000): 141–161.

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    An unorthodox intertextual reading—Loftus calls it “heterotextual”—that shows convincingly how suppressed sexual content enters and queers the autobiographical narrative of The Big Sea by way of veiled references, irony, and the inclusion of Hughes’s earlier texts. See also Hughes, Gender, and Sexuality.

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  • McLaren, Joseph. “The Creative Voice in the Autobiographies of Langston Hughes.” In Critical Insights: Langston Hughes. Edited by R. Baxter Miller, 121–137. Ipswich, MA: Salem, 2013.

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    Attributes Hughes’s distinctive voice as an autobiographer to his complex understanding of how the local relates to the global, and how those relations affect the lives of African Americans. A good introduction for undergraduate readers. Related to work on Hughes and black internationalism (see Hughes, Diaspora, and Black Internationalism).

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  • Miller, R. Baxter. “‘For a Moment I Wondered’: Theory and Symbolic Form in the Autobiographies of Langston Hughes.” Langston Hughes Review 3.2 (1984): 1–6.

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    An attentive reading of both autobiographies that sets off “wander” as referring to historical narrative from “wonder,” which signals lyrical modes and myth. Focuses on the “lyric moments” that Hughes’s autobiographical narratives conceal.

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  • Wagner, Jean. Black Poets of the United States: From Paul Laurence Dunbar to Langston Hughes. Translated by Kenneth Douglas. Illini Book. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1973.

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    Originally published in French in 1962 (Les poètes nègres de États-Unis, Paris: Librairie Istra). Although this oft-mentioned biographical-critical study focuses largely on Hughes’s blues poetry, Wagner also examines Hughes’s two autobiographies. But he does so largely to cull from them information for the biography with which his book opens.

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Short Fiction

Ostrom 1993 remains the only comprehensive study of Hughes’s short fiction. Of Hughes’s short-story collections, The Ways of White Folks (1934) and the four volumes of Simple stories (1950–1965) have received sustained critical attention focusing on characterization and narrative technique (see Nifong 1981, Tracy 1984, and Harper 1995). With few exceptions, such as in Borden 1994 (cited under Hughes, Gender, and Sexuality) and Tracy 2013, Something in Common and Other Stories (1963) has rarely been the sole object of study. The same has been true of Laughing to Keep from Crying (1952). Since Hughes scholarship since the mid-1990s has leaned away from formalist genre criticism and more toward cultural studies and historicist approaches, it is probably not altogether surprising that Hughes’s short stories tend to be read in the context of his other writings, especially his poetry (see Ford 1992). Critical commentaries on Hughes’s constructions of masculinity in his short fiction, as in Baldwin 2007 and Tracy 2013, are an early 21st-century phenomenon, taking their cue from readings that question the supposed straightforwardness of Hughes’s poetry and prevailing assumptions about his heterosexuality.

  • Baldwin, Kate A. “The Russian Connection: Interracialism as Queer Alliance in The Ways of White Folks.” In Montage of a Dream: The Art and Life of Langston Hughes. Edited by John Edgar Tidwell and Cheryl R. Ragar, 209–235. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2007.

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    Originally published in Modern Fiction Studies (2002), this insightful essay shows how Hughes, in “Slave on the Block” and “Home,” uses slippage to articulate alternatives to the heterosexual structure of W. E. B. Du Bois’s concept of black masculinity, which has tended to dominate African American scholarship.

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  • Bone, Robert. Down Home: The History of Afro-American Short Fiction from Its Beginnings to the End of the Harlem Renaissance. New Perspectives on Black America. New York: Putnam, 1975.

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    Although noteworthy as the first scholarly study of the evolution of African American short fiction, this book does not provide any critical framework beyond a broad conceptual division into pastoral versus antipastoral modes. Discusses The Ways of White Folks and Laughing to Keep from Crying but not the Simple stories.

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  • Ford, Karen Jackson. “Do Right to Write Right: Langston Hughes’s Aesthetics of Simplicity.” Twentieth Century Literature 38.4 (1992): 436–456.

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    An early refutation of the criticism that Hughes’s poetry is too simple for serious consideration, by reconstructing Hughes’s conception of the poet via the character of Jesse B. Semple as the embodiment of his poetics. Offers a thoughtful reading of Shakespeare in Harlem (1942), which, Ford argues, typifies Hughes’s aesthetic program. Reprinted in Bloom 2008 (cited under General Overviews).

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  • Harper, Donna Akiba Sullivan. Not So Simple: The “Simple” Stories by Langston Hughes. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1995.

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    A historical analysis of the Simple stories that, drawing from archival material, follows the famous Harlem character of Jesse B. Semple from his 1943 appearance in the Chicago Defender through his 1965 sendoff in the New York Post. Also examines the female characters in these stories.

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  • Nifong, David Michael. “Narrative Technique and Theory in The Ways of White Folks.” Black American Literature Forum 15.3 (1981): 93–96.

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    Focuses on Hughes’s experimentation with narrative perspective to argue that formalist critical theory can provide new insights into his techniques. Offers astute close readings of the stories in this collection. Reprinted with a slightly different title in Bloom 1989 (cited under General Overviews).

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  • Ostrom, Hans A. Langston Hughes: A Study of the Short Fiction. Twayne’s Studies in Short Fiction 47. New York: Twayne, 1993.

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    This brief yet quite thorough study traces productive tensions and unusual paradoxes in Hughes’s short stories. Presenting Hughes’s stories as notably different from most US and British modernist models, Ostrom emphasizes thematic diversity and formal versatility and calls Hughes the most influential African American writer in the genre before 1950.

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  • Tracy, Steven C. “Simple’s Great African American Joke.” CLA Journal 27.3 (1984): 239–253.

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    Excellent essay on the narrative artistry in the story “Jazz, Jive, and Jam” from Simple Stakes a Claim.

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  • Tracy, Steven C. “Without Respect for Gender: Damnable Inference in ‘Blessed Assurance.’” In Critical Insights: Langston Hughes. Edited by R. Baxter Miller, 223–237. Ipswich, MA: Salem, 2013.

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    A rare reading of a story from Something in Common (1963), which attends to Hughes’s exploration of homophobic masculinity through an unreliable narrator. Tracy’s clear writing makes this an excellent introduction to gender and sexuality in Hughes’s writing.

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Novels

Hughes was not known as a novelist. Since the early commentaries on his two novels in Singh 1976 and Miller 1976, few scholars have been interested in analyzing Not without Laughter (1930) and Tambourines to Glory (1958). Only Not without Laughter has garnered even a modicum of critical attention, usually in combination with other writings by Hughes (see Bennett 2007, cited under Hughes, Gender, and Sexuality). Scholars have been interested in this novel as an index of Hughes’s relations to his patron, Charlotte Mason, under whose auspices he wrote the novel (Thomas 1998); in his allegories of anti-black racism (Schultz 2002); and, more recently, in his constructions of masculinity (Banks 2007). Hricko 2009 is a rare reading of Hughes’s first novel as part of the Chicago Renaissance. The few scholars who have analyzed Tambourines to Glory (1958), such as in Curb 1977 and McLaren 1997a (both cited under Criticism: Drama), have been more taken by the gospel-play version than the novel.

  • Banks, Kimberly J. “Gender Performance and Sexual Subjectivity in Not without Laughter: Sandy’s Emergent Masculinity.” In Montage of a Dream: The Art and Life of Langston Hughes. Edited by John Edgar Tidwell and Cheryl R. Ragar, 86–105. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2007.

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    This essay focuses on how the characters Sandy and Harriet construct their private sexual desires both in relation to and in tacit defiance of public gender scripts. Banks is in direct critical conversation with the author of Schultz 2002, whose assumptions about the assumed naturalness of Sandy’s heterosexuality she questions.

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  • Hricko, Mary. The Genesis of the Chicago Renaissance: Theodore Dreiser, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and James T. Farrell. Literary Criticism and Cultural Theory. New York: Routledge, 2009.

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    Chapter 2 is on Langston Hughes. Reads Not without Laughter (1930) as Hughes’s Chicago novel and as representative of the “realist tradition” in which Hughes’s rejects romanticized notions of African American life. Includes a useful subsection comparing the Harlem Renaissance to the Chicago Renaissance.

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  • Miller, R. Baxter. “‘Done Made Us Leave Our Home’: Langston Hughes’s Not without Laughter—Unifying Image and Three Dimensions.” Phylon 37.4 (1976): 362–369.

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    Exemplifies a more traditional thematic reading that endeavors to show the different ways in which the image of home unifies the novel. Suitable for undergraduate readers.

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  • Schultz, Elizabeth. “Natural and Unnatural Circumstances in Langston Hughes’ Not without Laughter.” Callaloo 25.4 (2002): 1177–1187.

    DOI: 10.1353/cal.2002.0171Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Shows how Hughes’s descriptions of the natural features of Kansas serve to mark both the authenticity of place and class boundaries, a fact that enabled him to slip into this presumably natural coming-of-age story a subtext about the not-so-natural circumstances of racism and poverty. This reading counters Bone 1975 (cited under Criticism: Short Fiction). Reprinted in Tidwell and Ragar 2007 (cited under General Overviews).

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  • Singh, Amritjit. The Novels of the Harlem Renaissance: Twelve Black Writers, 1923–1933. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1976.

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    This survey includes brief readings of Not without Laughter and several other Hughes works. Singh’s readings are mostly thematic.

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  • Thomas, H. Nigel. “Patronage and the Writing of Langston Hughes’s Not without Laughter: A Paradoxical Case.” CLA Journal 42.1 (1998): 48–70.

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    Takes Hughes’s relationship with his patron, Charlotte Mason, as a microcosm of the conflict between Western belief systems and economics and the African American worldview Hughes sought to create. Good use of many of Hughes’s letters. Reprinted in Bloom 2008 (cited under General Overviews).

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Nonfiction

With the possible exception of his juvenilia (see Primary Works and Textbooks: Juvenilia and Criticism: Juvenilia), Hughes’s nonfiction writing has easily been the most neglected part of his work. Baldwin 2002 is the only study, to date, that analyzes A Negro Looks at Soviet Central Asia (1934), and some attention has finally been paid to the articles Hughes wrote in Spain as a correspondent for the Baltimore Afro-American and the Cleveland Call and Post (see Thurston 2001). Christopher De Santis has done the field an enormous service with his collections of the short pieces Hughes published in the columns of the Chicago Defender and other nonfiction writing. The introductions in De Santis 1995, De Santis 2001, and De Santis 2002 (all cited under Primary Works and Textbooks: Nonfiction) are important starting points for future scholarship, as is the introduction to Berry 1992 (cited under Primary Works and Textbooks: Nonfiction).

  • Baldwin, Kate A. Beyond the Color Line and the Iron Curtain: Reading Encounters between Black and Red, 1922–1963. New Americanists. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002.

    DOI: 10.1215/9780822383833Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Baldwin’s reading of A Negro Looks at Central Soviet Asia, the only one thus far, is motivated by her interest in how Hughes navigated the space between W. E. B. Du Bois’s black masculine veil (from The Souls of Black Folk [1903]) and the feminine, orientalist veil he encountered in his travels.

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  • Thurston, Michael. Making Something Happen: American Political Poetry between the World Wars. Cultural Studies of the United States. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.

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    Includes a chapter on Hughes with superb readings of controversial poems such as “Scottsboro” and “Christ in Alabama.” Other detailed analyses include Hughes’s journalistic writings about Spain, notably for the Baltimore Afro-American, and poems about civil-war-torn Spain, such as “Air Raid: Barcelona” and “Letter from Spain.”

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Drama

While Krasner 2007 briefly contextualizes Hughes’s early plays, Curb 1977, which was never published as a book, and McLaren 1997b stand uncontested as the two most comprehensive studies of Hughes’s dramatic writings. More-recent academic work on Hughes’s many plays has reflected the impact of cultural studies and performance studies on theater studies scholarship. The author of Selby 1966 anticipated a growing scholarly interest in the actual theatrical productions of Hughes’s plays, both as cultural events in very specific historical settings (see Emery 2012 and Plum 1995) and as intricately staged performances. Sanders 1997 is an unusual, and not entirely successful, attempt at connecting Hughes’s playwriting to his own experiences with Russian theater. While recovery work is always exciting, the actual scripts and manuscripts of most Hughes plays also still await serious literary analysis.

  • Curb, Rosemary Keefe. “The Idea of the American Dream in Afro-American Plays of the Nineteen Sixties.” PhD diss., University of Arkansas, 1977.

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    An extensive study of African American drama that includes largely thematic analyses of twelve Hughes plays, from Mulatto and Emperor of Haiti to Tambourines to Glory and Mother and Child. Provides a useful overview and a good starting point for further research. Includes a thorough bibliography.

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  • Emery, Sharyn. “The Philadelphia Harlem Story: Langston Hughes’s Screwy Play Little Ham.” Modern Drama 55.3 (2012): 373–385.

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    Situates Little Ham as part of the Harlem Renaissance, using the influence of 1930s screwball comedies as a lens through which to provide close-ups of the difficulties Hughes experienced as he engaged with African American vernacular culture and US popular forms at a time when minstrelsy still haunted the African American stage.

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  • Krasner, David. “Negro Drama and the Harlem Renaissance.” In The Cambridge Companion to the Harlem Renaissance. Edited by George B. Hutchinson, 57–70. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

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    Useful short survey that situates Hughes’s plays in the context of other Harlem Renaissance theater. Appropriate for undergraduate readers.

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  • McLaren, Joseph. “From Protest to Soul Fest: Langston Hughes’ Gospel Plays.” Langston Hughes Review 15.1 (1997a): 49–61.

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    Analyzes Black Nativity (1961), The Gospel Glory (1962), Tambourines to Glory (1963), Jericho-Jim Crow (1964), and The Prodigal Son (1965) as celebrations of gospel music in which conventional stagecraft merges with aspects of festival drama. Shows that Hughes’s gospel plays were not intended as traditional Christian morality plays. Reprinted in Bloom 2008, cited under General Overviews.

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  • McLaren, Joseph. Langston Hughes, Folk Dramatist in the Protest Tradition, 1921–1943. Contributions in Afro-American and African Studies 181. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1997b.

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    Important but very costly hardcover edition that ranges from early plays such as The Gold Piece (1921) to the post-radical plays such as For This We Fight (1943). The inclusion of photographs adds much to McLaren’s critical narrative. Available as an equally expensive Kindle edition.

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  • Plum, Jay. “Accounting for the Audience in Historical Reconstruction: Martin Jones’s Production of Langston Hughes’s Mulatto.” Theatre Survey 36.1 (1995): 5–19.

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    Sheds light on the reason behind Mulatto’s commercial success as the second-longest Broadway production of a play by an African American playwright (the first being Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun). Chides theater scholars for tending to debate literary merit of texts rather than the qualities of a performance.

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  • Sanders, Leslie. “‘Interesting Ways of Staging Plays’: Hughes and Russian Theatre.” Langston Hughes Review 15.1 (1997): 4–12.

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    Documents Hughes’s interest in Russian theater, largely on the basis of I Wonder as I Wander and related archival materials, and explores the ways in which Moscow theater and Russian folk theater influenced his plays.

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  • Selby, John. Beyond Civil Rights. Cleveland, OH: World Publishing, 1966.

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    A study of Kamaru, the theatrical group that produced many of Hughes’s plays. Focuses on Mulatto, which the group staged in 1939, but there are also discussions of Troubled Island, Little Ham, and Front Porch. For later scholarship on this group, see McLaren 1997a and McLaren 1997b.

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Juvenilia

Although few of Hughes’s juvenilia have received any attention from scholars, with Tracy 2002 and Anatol 2007 being the best among the exceptions, several of Hughes’s works for young readers have been reprinted in updated and newly illustrated editions, among them Black Misery (1994), The First Book of Jazz (1995), The Sweet and Sour Animal Book (1997), The Dream Keeper and Other Poems (1996), Popo and Fifina (2000), and The Book of Rhythms (2000).

  • Anatol, Giselle Liza. “Langston Hughes and the Children’s Literary Tradition.” In Montage of a Dream: The Art and Life of Langston Hughes. Edited by John Edgar Tidwell and Cheryl R. Ragar, 237–258. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2007.

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    Makes a strong case against the critical perception that has haunted the reception of much of Hughes work, and particularly his juvenilia: that it is too straightforward to be taken seriously. Argues that Hughes’s abiding efforts to summon interracial good will extends significantly to his writings for children.

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  • Tracy, Steven C. “The Dream Keeper: Langston Hughes’s Poetry, Fiction, and Non-biographical Books for Children and Young Adults.” Langston Hughes Review 17 (2002): 78–94.

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    A rare scholarly essay on Hughes’s juvenilia and an excellent introductory survey embedded in a layered historical context. Reprinted in Bloom 2008, cited under General Overviews.

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Translations by Hughes

Much has been written about Hughes’s friendship with Cuban poet laureate Nicolás Guillén, whose early poems Hughes cotranslated in the 1940s (see Hughes and Carruthers 1948, cited under Primary Works and Textbooks: Translations by Hughes). Too often, however, arguments have been made about literary influence without consulting either their correspondence (see Pérez Heredia 2002 and Augier 1995–1996, both cited under Correspondence) or any other relevant archival resources, notably the manuscripts of Hughes and Carruthers 1948, which are lodged in the Langston Hughes Papers (cited under Archives) at Yale. Cobb 1979, Kaup 2000 (both cited under Hughes, Diaspora, and Black Internationalism), and Nwankwo 1999–2001 are but a few examples of such omissions. At times, scholars have compared Guillén’s poetry to that of Hughes without considering Hughes’s translations of Guillén’s verse (see Jackson 1986, cited under Criticism: Spanish-Language Translations, and Jackson 1998, cited under Hughes, Diaspora, and Black Internationalism). Scott 2005 and Kutzinski 2012 mark a significant change. With the exception of Guillaume 1985 and Soto 2000, minimal scholarly work has been done on Hughes’s other translations, notably of the work of Jacques Roumain, Federico García Lorca, and Gabriela Mistral.

Hughes in Translation

The translations of Hughes’s work into numerous languages are an important measure of Hughes’s international reception. Yet, surprisingly little scholarship has been devoted to these literary translations, despite the fact that translation studies as a field has gained much ground since the late 20th century.

Spanish-Language Translations

Since Edward Mullen’s foundational work on Hughes’s reputation and presence in the Hispanic Americas (Mullen 1977), few articles and even fewer book chapters have been devoted to the many translations of Hughes’s work into Spanish (see Kaup 2000, cited under Hughes, Diaspora, and Black Internationalism; Nwankwo 1999–2001, cited under Criticism: Translations by Hughes; Kutzinski 2012; and Prescott 2013). While there have been more-general assessments of Hughes’s reputation in Latin America (Jackson 1986), scholarship on specific translations is still fairly rare, especially in the English-speaking world.

  • Jackson, Richard. “Langston Hughes and the African Diaspora in South America.” Langston Hughes Review 5.1 (1986): 23–33.

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    The second of Jackson’s essays on Hughes and Afro-Hispanic writers; the first one was published in 1981 in a special issue on Hughes of Black American Literature Forum (see Miller 1981, cited under Special Journal Issues). Both are important early sources for anyone interested in Hughes’s reputation in the Americas.

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  • Kernan, Ryan. “Langston Hughes’s Cuban Contacts: Translation, Complementary Conversation, and Inter-American Dialogue.” Langston Hughes Review 24–25 (2010): 64–86.

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    Very useful historico-political contextualization of José Antonio Fernández de Castro’s translations of Hughes’s poems, notably “I, Too,” and Hughes’s unpublished translation of Regino Pedrozo’s poem “Los conquistadores” (“The Conquerors”).

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  • Kutzinski, Vera M. The Worlds of Langston Hughes: Modernism and Translation in the Americas. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012.

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    The first effort to inventory and trace patterns in the Spanish-language translations of Hughes’s poetry since 1928 in periodical venues and anthologies, along with the book-length translations of Hughes’s prose writings and plays. Two lengthy chapters closely analyze key texts from the Cuban and the Argentine translations of Hughes’s poetry.

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  • Mullen, Edward J., ed. Langston Hughes in the Hispanic World and Haiti. Hamden, CT: Archon, 1977.

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    Traces Hughes’s influence and literary contacts in both areas. Includes eleven essays and the series of thirteen journalistic articles that Hughes wrote as a correspondent during the Spanish Civil War. Also has a valuable bibliography of Hughes’s works translated into Spanish, which has been amplified and corrected in Kutzinski 2012.

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  • Prescott, Laurence E. “‘Yo también soy América’: Latin American Receptions of Langston Hughes’s American Dream.” In Critical Insights: Langston Hughes. Edited by R. Baxter Miller, 255–274. Ipswich, MA: Salem, 2013.

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    Fairly brief but useful account of several neglected Latin American translators of and commenters on Hughes, including Manuel Zapata Olivella and Jorge Artel. In conversation with an article that became part of Kutzinski 2012.

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  • Soto, Isabel. “Translation as Understanding: Alfonso Sastre’s Adaptation of Mulatto.” Langston Hughes Review 15.1 (1997): 13–23.

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    A rare discussion of Sastre’s Spanish version of Hughes’s popular play.

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Translations into Other Languages

There has been lamentably little scholarship on the translations of Hughes’s writings into languages other than Spanish. The authors of Hodges 1985, Hodges 1986, and Rubeo 1987 are among a small number of scholars who have examined the translations of Hughes’s writings into European languages. Attention to Hughes’s work in other languages, such as Uzbek translations (see Moore 2002 and Hughes 2002, the latter cited under Primary Works and Textbooks: Translations into Other Languages) has been rare. It is, however, quite possible that renewed interest in the workings of translation in the dual contexts of literary reception history and cultural studies may produce more work in the future.

Hughes, Diaspora, and Black Internationalism

Hughes’s worldwide travels and the international circulation of his writings have made him a key figure for transnational literary scholarship. Studies with a primary interest in Hughes’s connections to the Caribbean, such as Cobb 1979, Nwankwo 1999–2001 (cited under Criticism: Translations by Hughes), and Kaup 2000, sit alongside scholarship on Hughes in a broader hemispheric American context, such as Jackson 1998, Patterson 2008, and Kutzinski 2012 (cited under Criticism: Spanish-Language Translations), and transatlantic approaches, such as Edwards 2007. Comparative internationalist readings of Hughes in relation to Africa and African poets, such as Gohar 2008 and Dworkin 2012, have been a more recent phenomenon. Transnational approaches to Hughes have led to a close scrutiny of unifying critical and literary discourses on blackness and the African diaspora and the relations among diaspora, black internationalism (in Brent Edwards’s coinage), and globalization (see also Nwankwo 1999–2001 and Kutzinski 2012).

  • Cobb, Martha. Harlem, Haiti, and Havana: A Comparative Critical Study of Langston Hughes, Jacques Roumain, Nicolás Guillén. Washington, DC: Three Continents, 1979.

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    This study, based on a 1974 doctoral dissertation, is an important early comparison of Hughes and two other prominent writers whom he encountered and befriended during his travels to the Caribbean. The chapter on Hughes focuses on his early poetry and some of the social-protest poetry from the 1930s.

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  • Dworkin, Ira. “‘Near the Congo’: Langston Hughes and the Geopolitics of Internationalist Poetry.” American Literary History 24.4 (2012): 631–657.

    DOI: 10.1093/alh/ajs048Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Very detailed commentary on “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” as a poem that rewrites the genealogies and geographies of Hughes’s career. Sees the poem as part of a literary and intellectual tradition in which the Congo was not a euphemism for the “Dark Continent” but a familiar place.

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  • Edwards, Brent Hayes. “Langston Hughes and the Futures of Diaspora.” American Literary History 19.3 (2007): 689–711.

    DOI: 10.1093/alh/ajm028Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores whether and how the concept of diaspora can offer a critical lens into the condition of globalization. Probing examination of Hughes’s diaspora discourse and his use of bilingual poetics, which includes excellent commentaries on “Letter from Spain” and “Moonlight in Valencia: Civil War.” See also Nwankwo 1999–2001 (cited under Criticism: Translations by Hughes) and Kaup 2000.

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  • Gohar, Saddik M. “The Dialectics of Homeland and Identity: Reconstructing Africa in the Poetry of Langston Hughes and Mohamed Al-Fayturi.” Tydskrif vir Letterkunde 45.1 (2008): 42–74.

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    Compares representations of Africa in the poetry of Hughes and the Sudanese Mohamed Al-Fayturi, showing how both poets explore overlaps in the experiences of African Americans with the history of black Africans.

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  • Jackson, Richard L. Black Writers and Latin America: Cross-Cultural Affinities. Washington, DC: Howard University Press, 1998.

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    Argues that while Hughes provided an important example for black writers across the Americas, his appeal in Latin America reached audiences beyond the African diaspora because of the similarity of Hughes’s revolutionary stance to that of writers such as César Vallejo, Pablo Neruda, and Nicolás Guillén.

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  • Kaup, Monika. “‘Our America’ That Is Not One: Transnational Black Atlantic Disclosures in Nicolás Guillén and Langston Hughes.” In Special Issue: Imperial Disclosures: Part I. Discourse: Journal for Theoretical Studies in Media and Culture 22.3 (2000): 87–113.

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    Identifies transnational continuities and discontinuities in the poems by Hughes and Guillén, including the translations in Hughes and Carruthers 1948 (cited under Primary Works and Textbooks: Translations by Hughes), without resorting to arguments of literary influence. Productively asks how the presumably shared transnational memory of the black Atlantic mitigates national specifics either lost or gained in translation.

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  • Moglen, Seth. “Modernism in the Black Diaspora: Langston Hughes and the ‘Broken Cubes of Picasso.’” In African Diasporas in the New and Old Worlds: Consciousness and Imagination. Edited by Geneviève Fabre and Klaus Benesch, 213–236. Cross/Cultures 69. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2004.

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    First published in Callaloo 25.4 (2002): 1188–1205. Nuanced reading of Hughes’s poem “Cubes” both as a modernist experiment and a critique of global modernism from the perspective of black internationalism. Useful for undergraduate and graduate readers alike.

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  • Patterson, Anita Haya. Race, American Literature and Transnational Modernisms. Cambridge Studies in American Literature and Culture 155. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511485619Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A valuable contribution to comparative discussions of literary modernisms in the Americas. Patterson’s chapter on Hughes, Jacques Roumain, and European literary avant-gardes updates Cobb 1979, arguing that the deceptive simplicity of Hughes’s early lyrics obscures a concern with craft and stylistic innovation that he shared with his modernist contemporaries.

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Hughes and Modernism

Despite publications such as de Jongh 1990, the author of Scanlon 2000 can still lament the scarcity of detailed examinations of the relations between Hughes’s work and that of other modernists, be they black or white, something that he himself sets out to begin to remedy. The publication of Coyle 2001, Scanlon 2002 (cited under Criticism: Poetry), Scanlon 2003, Moglen 2004 (cited under Hughes, Diaspora, and Black Internationalism), Patterson 2000 (cited under Criticism: Poetry), and other articles, then, points to an important shift in modernist criticism and in Hughes scholarship. Patterson 2008 (cited under Hughes, Diaspora, and Black Internationalism), Borshuk 2009, and Chinitz 2013 show the different approaches to Hughes that that shift has produced.

  • Borshuk, Michael. Swinging the Vernacular: Jazz and African American Modernist Literature. Studies in African American History and Culture. Abingdon, UK: Taylor & Francis, 2009.

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    Originally published in 2006 (New York: Routledge), this study identifies a strand of modernist literature influenced by jazz and traces it in the writings of Hughes, Ralph Ellison, Michael Harper, and Albert Murray. The first two chapters are on Hughes. This discussion of the vernacular relates to Scanlon 2002 (cited under Criticism: Poetry) and Scanlon 2003.

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  • Chinitz, David E. Which Sin to Bear? Authenticity and Compromise in Langston Hughes. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199919697.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Immerses readers in a debate about the relation between so-called racial authenticity and formal aesthetics that began in the 1920s. While he prioritizes Hughes’s poetry, Chinitz also includes a chapter on the Simple stories and on Hughes’s testimonies before the McCarthy Committee in 1953.

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  • Coyle, Michael, ed. Ezra Pound and African American Modernism. Orono, ME: National Poetry Foundation, 2001.

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    This collection of new essays is dedicated to showing how essential African American poets and rather eccentric ideas about blackness were to Pound’s writing. Includes two excellent essays by Jonathan Gill and David Roessel on the relations between Hughes and Pound.

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  • de Jongh, James. Vicious Modernism: Black Harlem and the Literary Imagination. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511898037Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Uses The Weary Blues to show how Hughes’s poems combined the black urban experience with the expressive forms that African American migrants had brought with them. Argues that Hughes was the first to represent Harlem as a landscape and dreamscape of the blues. Important for its focus on place.

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  • Lowney, John. “Langston Hughes, Modernism, and Modernity.” In Critical Insights: Langston Hughes. Edited by R. Baxter Miller, 275–293. Ipswich, MA: Salem, 2013.

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    This excellent historicist essay analyzes Hughes’s Montage of a Dream Deferred (1951) and Ask Your Mama (1961) as exemplary modernist texts. Its clarity makes it suitable for different audiences.

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  • Ramazani, Jahan. Poetry of Mourning: The Modern Elegy from Hardy to Heaney. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.

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    Includes a valuable chapter on Hughes’s blues poetry in relation to the African American elegy and offers detailed readings of The Weary Blues. Also offers a rare discussion of Hughes’s lynching poems, which is extended in Miller 2011 (cited under Criticism: Poetry).

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  • Scanlon, Larry. “‘Death Is a Drum’: Rhythm, Modernity, and the Negro Poet Laureate.” In Music and the Racial Imagination. Edited by Ronald Radano and Philip V. Bohlman, 510–553. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

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    Argues compellingly that the honorific “Negro poet laureate” encapsulates the formidable challenges that Hughes, both as modern and unmodern writer, poses to modernist critical mantras. Focuses on Hughes’s notion and poetic uses of rhythm in connection with his interest in elegy, on which Ramazani 1994 also comments.

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  • Scanlon, Larry. “Poets Laureate and the Language of Slaves: Petrarch, Chaucer, and Langston Hughes.” In The Vulgar Tongue: Medieval and Postmedieval Vernacularity. Edited by Fiona Somerset and Nicholas Watson, 220–256. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2003.

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    Lucid literary-historical and theoretical essay that shows how T. S. Eliot’s Waste Land functions as an intertext for Hughes’s Ask Your Mama. Offers a precise history of the term “vernacular” that is most helpful for work on Hughes’s vernacular poetry. See also Scanlon 2002 (cited under Criticism: Poetry) and Borshuk 2009.

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Hughes as Political Writer

While widely admired by audiences in other parts of the world, notably in Latin America (see Jackson 1998, cited under Hughes, Diaspora, and Black Internationalism, and Kutzinski 2012), Hughes’s explicitly leftist poems from the 1930s, notably Scottsboro Limited (1932) and A New Song (1938), have often been derided as mere protest poetry unfit for rigorous scholarly analysis. Following in the footsteps of Nelson 1989, which was a pioneering work, Young 2007, Scott 2006, Dawahare 2002, Thurston 2001 (cited under Criticism: Nonfiction), Shulman 2000, and Smethurst 1999 all are examples of how that earlier critical trend has experienced significant adjustments since the late 1990s. Chinitz 2013 and Kutzinski 2012 are the first studies to consider Hughes’s leftist writings in the context of his two testimonies before the McCarthy Committee in 1953. They arrive at very different conclusions about how Hughes responded to this form of political intimidation.

  • Chinitz, David E. Which Sin to Bear? Authenticity and Compromise in Langston Hughes. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199919697.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Chapter 5 offers a fairly superficial comparison of Hughes’s secret and public testimonies before the McCarthy Committee, which does not include any readings of the poems at issue. Chinitz claims that Hughes never challenged his questioners’ attempts at censorship, even in the secret testimony.

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  • Dawahare, Anthony. Nationalism, Marxism, and African American Literature between the Wars: A New Pandora’s Box. Margaret Walker Alexander Series in African American Studies. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2002.

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    Chapter 5 argues cogently that Hughes eventually abandoned the blues as a vehicle for expressing his political ideas, once those ideas, notably about possible remedies to the fragmentation of global working-class struggles, had moved away from the cultural nationalist politics implicit in the vernacular aesthetics of his early poems.

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  • Kutzinski, Vera M. The Worlds of Langston Hughes: Modernism and Translation in the Americas. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012.

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    Compares Hughes’s two testimonies before McCarthy and reads the secret testimony with a view toward the questioners’ sustained effort at translating Hughes’s art into political propaganda, an effort Hughes actively resisted. Offers readings of “Ballads of Lenin” and other poems the committee saw as evidence of Hughes’s communist past.

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  • Nelson, Cary. Repression and Recovery: Modern American Poetry and the Politics of Cultural Memory, 1910–1945. Wisconsin Project on American Writers. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989.

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    While Nelson offers few detailed readings of Hughes’s poems, the merit of his study is that it places Hughes’s work within a diverse literary history that focuses on many US poets marginalized on account of their race, gender, or leftist politics. Especially valuable is Nelson’s close attention to the actual periodical and book publications of the period and his interest in print-cultural approaches. A pioneering work that any Hughes scholar should read.

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  • Scott, Jonathan. Socialist Joy in the Writing of Langston Hughes. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2006.

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    More useful for its historical contextualization of Hughes’s involvement with international socialism in the 1920s and 1930s than for its readings of Hughes’s poetry as expressions of “socialist joy” that flowed from the idea of overthrowing white oppression. Scott’s 2006 essay “Advanced, Repressed, and Popular: Langston Hughes during the Cold War” in Bloom 2008 (cited under General Overviews) covers similar ground, but more effectively.

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  • Shulman, Robert. The Power of Political Art: The 1930s Literary Left Reconsidered. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.

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    Seeks to rehabilitate the writing of a generation of US artists neglected because of their sympathies for the Communist Party. Hughes is the focus of the final chapter. The readings of Hughes’s poems from the 1930s, however, are often formulaic and rushed.

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  • Smethurst, James Edward. The New Red Negro: The Literary Left and African American Poetry, 1930–1946. Race and American Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

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    Chapters 3 and 5 argue that Hughes self-consciously wrote poems for different audiences, showing how undervaluing his revolutionary poetry has led to a disregard for his sly poetic voice. Discerning readings of poems from Shakespeare in Harlem, Jim Crow’s Last Stand, and Montage of a Dream Deferred.

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  • Young, Robert. “Langston Hughes’s Red Poetics and the Practice of ‘Disalienation.’” In Montage of a Dream: The Art and Life of Langston Hughes. Edited by John Edgar Tidwell and Cheryl R. Ragar, 135–146. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2007.

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    Situates the art versus propaganda debate in the context of the differences between Georg Lukácz’s realism and Berthold Brecht’s modernism. Young’s interest is on how Hughes’s political commitments shaped the form, structure, and texture of poems such as “Ballads to Lenin,” “Good Morning Revolution,” and “Open Letter to the South.”

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Hughes, Gender, and Sexuality

Arnold Rampersad’s two-volume Hughes biography (Rampersad 1986 and Rampersad 1988, cited under Biographies) has had a salutary impact on the quality of Hughes scholarship in many ways. But it has also provoked some unhappiness. Bennett 2000 is by only one scholar among many, such as the authors of Woods 1993, Borden 1994, and Evans 2006, who have implicitly and explicitly suggested that Rampersad’s representation of Hughes as asexual has had a deleterious effect on Hughes scholarship, stifling discussions of homosexuality in and queer readings of Hughes’s work. At the same time, productive rereadings of Hughes’s autobiographies, his nonfiction writing, his short fiction, his novels, and his poetry as crossing all sorts of lines, including those of gender and sexuality, have steadily gained momentum since the early 1990s in the wake of Isaac Julien’s controversial film Looking for Langston (Julien 1989, cited under Film, Television, and Internet Resources). Baldwin 2002 (cited under Criticism: Nonfiction) is thus far the only book-length study in this vein devoted entirely to Hughes.

  • Banks, Kimberly J. “Gender Performance and Sexual Subjectivity in Not without Laughter: Sandy’s Emergent Masculinity.” In Montage of a Dream: The Art and Life of Langston Hughes. Edited by John Edgar Tidwell and Cheryl R. Ragar, 86–105. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2007.

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    Analyzes the laughter of the novel’s title as a strategy for coping with racial violence and a vehicle for regulating and enforcing sexual and gendered scripts. Offers a detailed, persuasive reading of the novel.

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  • Bennett, Juda. “Multiple Passings and the Double Death of Langston Hughes.” Biography 23.4 (2000): 670–693.

    DOI: 10.1353/bio.2000.0043Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This essay, which offers readings of The Big Sea, “Blessed Assurance,” Not without Laughter, and “Cross” (among other poems), argues that Hughes’s work on racial passing usefully complicates debates over Hughes’s sexuality, while also provoking a reevaluation of the prevailing notion that Hughes was an artless poet.

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  • Bennett, Juda. “Langston Hughes on the Open Road: Compulsory Heterosexuality and the Question of Presence.” In Montage of a Dream: The Art and Life of Langston Hughes. Edited by John Edgar Tidwell and Cheryl R. Ragar, 68–85. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2007.

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    Uses an epistemology of the closet modeled after Eve Sedgwick’s influential paradigm as key to understanding how Hughes, seen here as a Whitmanian gay wanderer, explored the coming of age of an African American male in Not without Laughter, The Big Sea, and I Wonder as I Wander.

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  • Borden, Anne. “Heroic ‘Hussies’ and ‘Brilliant Queers’: Genderracial Resistance in the Works of Langston Hughes.” African American Review 28.3 (1994): 333–345.

    DOI: 10.2307/3041970Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    One of the first discussions of representations of black male and female sexualities and erotics across Hughes’s writings. Situates his poetry in the context of the work of gay and lesbian black poets such as Essex Hemphill, Marlon Riggs, and Audre Lorde, as well as Julien 1989 (cited under Film, Television, and Internet Resources).

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  • Evans, Nicholas M. “Wandering Aesthetic, Wandering Consciousness: Diasporic Impulses and ‘Vagrant’ Desires in Langston Hughes’s Early Poetry.” In New Voices on the Harlem Renaissance: Essays on Race, Gender, and Literary Discourse. Edited by Australia Tarver and Paula C. Barnes, 151–193. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2006.

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    Takes Hughes’s guarded self-representations and the Afro-British film Looking for Langston (Julien 1989, cited under Film, Television, and Internet Resources) as starting points for challenging traditional modes of Hughes criticism and their indebtedness to formations of black nationalism, diaspora, and black heterosexual masculinity. Offers nuanced queer readings of The Weary Blues and Fine Clothes to the Jew.

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  • Ponce, Martin Joseph. “Langston Hughes’s Queer Blues.” Modern Language Quarterly 66.4 (2005): 505–538.

    DOI: 10.1215/00267929-66-4-505Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A readable, detailed essay of Hughes’s early blues poetry as expressions of queer desire, which should work well in undergraduate classes.

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  • See, Sam. “‘Spectacles in Color’: The Primitive Drag of Langston Hughes.” PMLA 124.3 (2009): 798–816.

    DOI: 10.1632/pmla.2009.124.3.798Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Carefully argued and supported essay that takes Hughes’s depiction of modernist Harlem culture in The Big Sea (1940) as a drag performance, as a launching pad for a fine reading of The Weary Blues (1926), and as a collection of poems that cross gender, sexual, racial, and formal lines.

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  • Woods, Gregory. “Gay Re-readings of the Harlem Renaissance Poets.” In Critical Essays: Gay and Lesbian Writers of Color. Edited by Emmanuel S. Nelson, 127–142. New York: Haworth, 1993.

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    Convincingly argued reappraisal of the work of Hughes, Countee Cullen, Claude McKay, and Richard Bruce Nugent. Anticipates the main points of Ponce 2005 in attending to homosexual subtexts in poems typically pegged only for their treatment of race relations and anti-racist topics. Copublished in Journal of Homosexuality 26.2–3 (1993): 127–142.

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Film, Television, and Internet Resources

A significant number of documentaries have been produced about Hughes’s life, typically by and for public television in the United States, some of which include historical footage of poetry readings. YouTube is an excellent source for locating those and other productions. Julien 1989 has been the most visible and most discussed of non-documentary films related to Hughes. The scholarship on Hughes that Isaac Julien’s film has inspired has mainly produced queer rereadings of Hughes’s poetry, short fiction, and autobiographies (see Hughes, Gender, and Sexuality), but rarely any work on Hughes and film. Cripps 2007 is a rare exception. Noncommercial websites devoted to Hughes and his work have mushroomed in recent years. Wallace 2008 (cited under Biographies) includes a useful select bibliography of film, television, and websites.

  • Bourne, St. Clair, dir. Langston Hughes: The Dream Keeper. VHS. Voices & Visions 6. Santa Barbara, CA: Intellimation, 1988.

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    Produced by the New York Center for Visual History as an episode of Voices and Visions for PBS television. A sixty-minute documentary film from a prominent African American director, in which Hughes’s life and career are related through photographs, readings, and commentary by other writers and scholars.

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  • Cripps, Thomas. “Langston Hughes and the Movies: The Case of Way Down South.” In Montage of a Dream: The Art and Life of Langston Hughes. Edited by John Edgar Tidwell and Cheryl R. Ragar, 305–318. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2007.

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    One of few pieces of scholarship on Hughes’s stint as a Hollywood screenwriter in the late 1930s, situated in the context of the black stereotypes Hollywood films offered up to the viewing public. Based on archival work in the Langston Hughes Papers (cited under Archives) at Yale. Very readable; suitable for undergraduate classes.

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  • Julien, Isaac, dir. Looking for Langston. DVD. London: British Film Institute, 1989.

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    A controversial production that has garnered significant attention in academia due to contentious debates about Hughes’s sexuality and his literary representations of homosexuality. Parts of this film seem to have been inspired by Richard Bruce Nugent’s short story “Smoke, Lilies and Jade, a Novel, Part 1,” published in Fire!! 1.1 (1926): 33–39.

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