Archive for December 15th, 2017

by Sam Juliano

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.         -“Dreams”, Langston Hughes

 James Langston Hughes was labeled the “Shakespeare of Harlem.”  During his lifetime he published sixteen volumes of poetry, ten short story collections, two novels, two autobiographies, nine children’s books and a bevy of stage works, radio scripts, song lyrics and anthologies.  A social activist who suffered through , Hughes was known as a forerunner of the Harlem Renaissance and an early innovator of jazz poetry.  He was unique among his African-American contemporaries, maintaining through his life a strain of optimism that included a belief that all men were basically good and that the scourge of segregation was no more than an obstacle to be overcome.  In his powerful poem “I, too, sing America” Hughes acknowledged who he was and how he would persevere and achieve equal respect:

I, too, sing America.  I am the darker brother.  They send me to eat in the kitchen when company comes/But I laugh and eat well, and grow strong/Tomorrow, I’ll be at the table.

More volumes and picture books have been written about Hughes than any other African-American figure.  Some literary critics hold him in higher esteem than James Baldwin, Richard Wright and W.B.B. DuBois, and his work maintains a lasting impact for those wanting to study and comprehend the American experience during Langston’s lifetime.  Ace picture book illustrator Daniel Miyares admits in an afterward to his new picture book based on a famous Hughes poem that he was moved by the “raw power of the poetry”, which in this instance “peeled back a facade and reveal deep truths that may be hard for us to see.”  The poem “Dream Variation” is one of Hughes’s most beloved works, to stand alongside “Dreams” (referenced above), “Mother and Son”, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” the aforementioned “I Too” and several others.  Miyares hopes the poem and the stirring pictorial interpretation it inspired him to create will be a “catalyst of empathy” for readers, “especially the youngest.”  For adult readers Miyares has showcased in aching elegiac tapestries the indominable aspect of the human spirit.  On August 28, 1963, roughly thirty-seven years after Langston wrote the poem, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington D.C., the defining moment of the civil rights movement.  Few could contest that a measure of King’s own inspiration dates back to Hughes’s idyllic vision and the shared aspiration of racial equality. (more…)

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