Review by Choice Review
This gem of a book is indispensable for any reader of Hughes or student of the 20th century. In putting together this volume, Rampersad (Stanford), author of a well-received two-volume biography of Hughes, The Life of Langston Hughes (1986-1988), and Roessel (Stockton Univ.) selected from thousands of letters that, they assert, "could easily fill almost 20 large volumes." The result is a moving, often lyrical epistolary autobiography that covers the places (Harlem, Chicago, Los Angeles, Paris, Mexico, the Soviet Union) and the people (Alain Locke, Countee Cullen, Arna Bontemps, Blanche Knopf, Carl Van Vechten, Noel Sullivan) significant for Hughes over the course of his life. These letters contain tales of artistic yearning and financial trouble, depict Hughes's concerns about the color line and his commitment to leftist politics, and illustrate his deep involvement in all kinds of cultural artisanship. This riveting book is an excellent companion to Hughes's poetry, fiction, drama, and autobiography. Those less than familiar with Hughes will be inspired to return to the Hughes they love best or try yet unexplored corners of his oeuvre, and those who know Hughes well will likely read and reread these letters often. Summing Up: Essential. All readers. --Jeffrey W. Miller, Gonzaga University
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Booklist Review
*Starred Review* Best remembered as a Harlem Renaissance writer, Hughes had a career that spanned five decades in which he wrote poems, novels, plays, children's books, and screenplays that challenged assumptions about the talent of black writers and the aspirations of black people. He was also a prolific letter writer, as this collection attests. Hughes biographer Rampersad joins Roessel to offer a collection that reflects on Hughes' personal and artistic development, a supplement to his autobiographical works, The Big Sea (1940) and I Wonder as I Wander (1956). The collection begins in 1921, the year Hughes' poem The Negro Speaks of Rivers was published, and ends in 1967. His relationships with other black writers is fully on display, from a close friendship with Claude McKay to friction with Zora Neale Hurston and James Baldwin, as well as his support and encouragement of young writers, including Alice Walker. The collection contains letters to Arna Bontemps, Countee Cullen, Alain Locke, Richard Wright, Amiri Baraka, and others. In his correspondence with publishers and Carl Van Vechten, supporter of black writers, Hughes navigates complex business and racial politics to maintain his dignity as a black writer. The letters trace Hughes' survival of five decades of changes in politics and culture through the Harlem Renaissance, the Red Scare, and rising black nationalism and offer a rich and intimate portrait of an extraordinary writer.--Bush, Vanessa Copyright 2010 Booklist
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Best known for poems such as "Montage of a Dream Deferred" and fiction such as the wry Semple stories, Hughes was also a prolific letter writer. When his friend Carl Van Vechten started a collection of African-American-related materials at Yale in 1941, Hughes immediately pledged all his papers. The sheer quantity of Hughes's correspondence could easily fill many volumes, and this first-ever collection was judiciously assembled by Hughes's biographer Rampersad, Roessel, who co-edited The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes with Rampersad, and Fratantoro. Arranged chronologically, the letters show the ups and downs of Hughes's life, his financial and creative insecurities, and his support of younger writers. Literary stars such as Blanche Knopf, Countee Cullen, Ezra Pound, and Zora Neale Hurston, among many others, parade through the pages. Some of the most revealing selections include Hughes's 1921 letters to his father about his desire to leave Columbia University, his loving and desperately self-effacing letters to his patron Charlotte Osgood Mason, and various letters detailing his discovery of a young Alice Walker. The book also reveals Hughes's occasional ambivalence toward fellow African-American authors, as in his observation that James Baldwin "over-writes and over-poeticizes in images way over the heads of the folks supposedly thinking them." The cumulative effect of the letters is to provide a fitting companion to Rampersad's two-volume biography of Hughes. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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Review by Library Journal Review
Starred Review. This title, edited by Rampersad (emeritus, Stanford Univ.; The Life of Langston Hughes) and David Roessel (Greek language and literature, Richard Stockton Coll. of New Jersey; associate editor, The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes) with Christa Fratantoro, presents an intimate portrait of a much respected and beloved American poet. Arranged by decades, the letters provide readers a glimpse of the many facets of the life, work, and times of Hughes (1902-67). The group with whom he corresponded is broad and includes family members, publishers, other writers, and many notable public figures. The editors have done an excellent job of allowing the correspondence to show Hughes's kindness, generosity of spirit, and commitment to craft. The backdrop of segregation is ever present in his attempts to support himself, find publishers for his work, and discover his voice. Despite setbacks in his life, both personal and professional, Hughes continued to reach out to young people and blossoming writers, work toward fairness for all, and devise a way to use his "artistic clout" to help the disenfranchised. VERDICT This extraordinary book should interest all readers of American letters, those who are pursuing American studies, and poetry audiences everywhere. [See Prepub Alert, 8/18/14.]-Pam Kingsbury, Univ. of North Alabama, Florence (c) Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
The renowned poet's life revealed in letters.A star of the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes (1902-1967) published poetry, fiction, humor, books for young people, biographies and autobiographies, anthologies, and assorted works of history and translation. He also wrote thousands of letters, from which Rampersad (Humanities, Emeritus/Stanford Univ.; Ralph Ellison, 2007, etc.) and Roessel (Greek/Stockton Coll. of New Jersey; co-editor: Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes, 2013, etc.) have made a discerning selectionincluding several disarmingly candid draftsto offer a vivid portrait of a man sometimes cowed by self-doubt and vulnerability, sometimes given to outbursts of bravura, always eager for adventure and always short of money. In the 1930s, his youthful socialist sympathies transformed into passionate radicalism. He cherished friendships, as letters to Arna Bontemps, Carl Van Vechten and Countee Cullen attest, and he was quick to encourage other writers, including Ralph Ellison and Alice Walker. As a young writer himself, he could be self-deprecating: He felt timid about meeting editor and professor Alain Locke, he told Cullen, "because I know he'd find me terribly stupid." When he was 25, Hughes was taken up by Charlotte Osgood Mason, an elderly white philanthropist who offered him a monthly stipend to support his writing and insisted on being called "Godmother." Hughes loved Mrs. Mason "as a son loves his mother," Rampersad writes. When Mason flared up angrily at what she saw as indolence, Hughes felt desolate: "I am humbly deeply sorry," he wrote, but he confessed, "I cannot write at all on any sort of pre-arranged schedule." An intrepid traveler, Hughes saw the world; championed by Van Vechten and his publisher Blanche Knopf, he socialized with celebrity artists and writers. Yet all the while, he took advice offered by Vachel Lindsay to be "wary of lionizers." A privileged perspective on the man and his art. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.