The Selected Letters of Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes, 1902-1967

Book - 2014

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New York : Alfred A. Knopf 2014.
Main Author
Langston Hughes, 1902-1967 (-)
Other Authors
Arnold Rampersad (-), David E. (David Ernest) Roessel, 1954-
Item Description
Includes index.
"This is a Borzoi Book."
Physical Description
xxx, 442 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
  • Introduction
  • Editorial Preface
  • Part I. We Have Tomorrow, 1921 to 1931
  • Part II. Let America Be America Again, 1931 to 1939
  • Part III. I Do Not Need Freedom When I'm Dead, 1939 to 1949
  • Part IV. The Rumble of a Dream Deferred, 1950 to 1960
  • Part V. I Heard the Horn of Plenty Blowing, 1960 to 1967
  • Acknowledgments
  • Index
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.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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.

TO ARNA BONTEMPS [On Hotel Wellington, Seventh Avenue At Fifty- Fifth­ Street, New York, N.Y. 10019 stationery] CURRENT ADDRESS April 22, 1967 Dear Arna, I believe I asked Raoul |Abdul| to drop you a card requesting that you revise, as you like, your own biog, and add to it what you wish, to bring it up to date for THE POETRY OF THE NEGRO and send it to me post haste as I'm now ready to type those sheets up for Doubleday, having all the material-- but Lewis Alexander's birth date-- which I intend to find if it KILLS me. Ran into Kurtz Myers of the Hackle Collection in Detroit, who says­ he thinks he can get it for me through a library researcher who finds things for him in Washington. The house is still ALL torn up, and Emerson is going around in circles, not being good at "law and order" and quite lost without Aunt Toy, who is wasting away by the hour to a wisp of her former self, now too weak to sit up, but wants to come home-- which really would put an end to her if she saw the house as it is now-- full of paint fumes, dust and debris. You never saw the like. With such confusion there, I shall stay here at the hotel until I go to Europe (maybe not till July now). So you may best write me here, ROOM 41, at the above address. Impossible to work at home. Meltzer's second draft of his book, LANGSTON­ HUGHES, is good. And I've just added a little chapter for him about my African trip. But this is the LAST book or thesis I can take time out to help anybody with. Enough anyhow-- four-- with |James| Emanuel's and the two in France ­Belgium. . . . . SIMPLE got off to a good start in Paris so they write me, and still urge me to fly over right now for interviews. Wish I could. But not for just a week, not for just a year. . . . .as the song says . . . but-- Toujours, Langston TO CHARLOTTE MASON June 6 |1930| In all my life I have never been free. I have never been able to do anything with freedom, except in the field of my writing. With my parents, with my employers in my struggle for food, in all the material circumstances of life, I have been forced to move this way and that-- only when I sat down for a moment to write have I been able to put down what I wanted to put down, to say what I've wanted to say, when and where I choose . . . . . . As long as I worked on my novel, dear Godmother, I think we were One-- we both wanted it finished soon, we both agreed about what was being done. But when you told me that I should have begun my writing again the week after I returned from Cuba -- I must disagree with you. I must never write when I do not want to write. That is my last freedom and I must keep it for myself . . . . Then when you tell me that you give me more than anybody ever gave me before -- ($ 225 00 a month-- my allowance and half of Louise)-- and that I have been living in idleness since the first of March-- I must feel miserably ashamed. I must feel that I have been misusing your kindness and that it would be wrong to you for me to take your help any more when I cannot write-- when I cannot do what you believe I should be doing-- when I am afraid of making you unhappy because you have been kind good to me-- and when I know that I cannot write at all on any sort of pre- arranged schedule. The nervous strain of finishing the novel by a certain time has shown me that. Almost all of one's life must be measured and timed as it is-- meals every day at a certain hour; if I am working for a salary-- to work at a certain time; to bed at a certain time in order to get enough sleep; letters to be answered by a certain time in order to avoid discourtesy or loss of business. So far in this world, only my writing has been my own, to do when I wanted to do it, to finish only when I felt that it was finished, to put it aside or discard it completely if I chose. For the sake of my physical body I have washed restaurant thousands of hotel dishes, cooked, scrubbed decks, worked 12 to 15 hours a day on a farm, swallowed my pride for the sake help of philanthropy and charity-- but nobody ever said to me "You must write now, you must finish that poem tomorrow. You must begin to create on the first of the month." Because then I could not have have written, I could not have created anything. I could only have put down empty words at best. . . . . . The creative urge must come from within, always as you know dear G., -- or it is less than true . . . . . So I am sorry if you feel that I have been unnecessarily idle. And, I am ashamed beyond words, if I have misused your generousity. I did not want ever to do that. And if I have misunderstood your words advice, your kind and sincere talks with me the last few weeks, blame only my stupidity, Godmother, not my heart. My love and devotion are yours always, and my deepest respect and gratitude, and my willingness always to listen to you in the future as in the past and to be guided by you as nearly as I can. But I must tell you the truth so that there will be no wall between us. TO ALAIN LOCKE S.S.­West­ Hassayampa, Jones Point, N.Y. February 6, 1923. Dear Mr. Locke: I have had your delightful letter for a long while and I have wanted to answer you sooner, but so many things have intervened, a bad cold and a birthday, --I am twenty-one! And then I am a terrible correspondent. But I should like to know you and I hope you'll write to me again. It is too bad I am not living in New York anymore. I am missing so many interesting people. I am chasing dreams up here, though, and that's an infinitely more delightful occupation even than being in New York, where all my old dreams had been realized; college, (horrible place, but I wanted to go), Broadway and the theatres -- delightful memories, Riverside Drive in the mists, and Harlem. A whirling year in New York! Now I want to go to Europe. Stay for a while in France, then live with the gypsies in Spain (wild dream, isn't it?) and see the bull fights in Seville. My Spanish is good from having lived in Mexico and there's no sport in the world as lovely as a "corrida de toros," to those who like them. Jeritza is wonderful, isn't she? I fell in love with her last year and waited at the stage door for a smile and a rose. But have you seen Chaliapin in "Boris"? If you haven't, please do. It's the experience of a lifetime. And did you see the Moscow Art players? I couldn't get in, so I comforted myself with seeing the "Chauvin Souris" for the third time, and Jane Cowl's Juliet. I suppose you saw Barrymore's Hamlet, and maybe "Rain." I have been telling all my friends to see it-- "Rain"-- but none of them take my advice. For me, it's the finest thing, aside from "Hamlet," I've seen this season, and stands out in my mind as "Anna Christie" from last year's plays. Countee told me about seeing the "World We Live In" with you. He has been doing some very beautiful poems lately, hasn't he? Jones Point is about forty miles up the Hudson from New York-- a little white village almost pushed into the water by the snow­covered hills. And the Hassayampa is one of five "mother­ ships" anchored in the river in a forest of masts and cables belonging to a hundred other long old sea-going boats waiting for the Subsidy to pass, or something to happen to take them back to the sea. The sailors up here are the finest fellows I've ever met--fellows you can touch and know and be friends with. And after the atmosphere of college last year, being up here on the long ships is like fresh air and night stars after three hours in a dull movie show. No I haven't a single dramatic sketch. I would be glad to hear from you again and to enjoy your friendship. Sincerely, Langston Hughes Excerpted from THE LETTERS OF LANGSTON HUGHES by Langston Hughes. Edited by Arnold Rampersad and David Roessel. Copyright © 2015 by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpted from Selected Letters of Langston Hughes by Langston Hughes All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.