Selected Poems of Langston Hughes by Langston Hughes
Celebrating Black History Month at the VCU Libraries
Reviewed by Kevin Farley, Collection Librarian for the Humanities
The works of the acclaimed Harlem Renaissance dramatist, essayist, musical collaborator, novelist, and poet Langston Hughes (1902 - 1967) comprise a crucial record of the African American experience in the first half of the 20th Century. Hughes' poetry from the 1920s and 1930s especially captures the tenor of Harlem voices, allowing the vibrancy of living speech to emerge from the printed page. Defying the simple caricatures of black speech that often prevailed in American literature in previous decades, Hughes' poetry collections -- especially The Weary Blues (1926), The Dream Keeper and Other Poems (1932), and Montage of a Dream Deferred (1951) -- created a space in which the true voices of Harlem could tell their own stories. Using everyday words and rhythms from the voices around him, and mixing echoes of the extraordinary energy of the Jazz music that was becoming more intricate, expressive, and irrefutable, Hughes' poetry constitutes an immortal oral history of one of the most important times and places in American history. "I've known rivers," Hughes writes in "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," "I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the / flow of human blood in human veins," and the voices of Hughes' poems, like the rivers he celebrates, have become part of that ancient wisdom.
The poetry of Langston Hughes has often been set to music, and his poem cycle "Ask Your Mama: Twelve Moods for Jazz" will be performed Friday evening, February 23, 2007 at 8:00 p.m. at the VCU Singleton Center for the Performing Arts by The Langston Hughes Project, a presentation by The Ron McCurdy Quartet and Dr. Diane Richardson.