Monday, February 01, 2016

Happy Black History Month & Langston Hughes Day

Langston Hughes by
Carl Van Vechten, 1936
Happy Black History Month!

February 1 is also the birthday of Langston Hughes (1902-1967), who needs no introduction. As in past years, in honor of his birthday and of Black History Month, I'm posting a Langston Hughes poem. (One of the joys of my life these days is that I always was able to memorialize and celebrate him for posterity in my story "Blues," in Counternarratives.)

Below is Langston Hughes's tribute to the late Jacques Roumain (1907-1944), one of Haiti's greatest poets, whose work, including Gouverneurs de la Rosée (Masters of the Dew) Hughes translated. The friendship, dialogue and political affinities between the two poets was significant, in part because of the links Roumain had made with African American writers during his period of exile from Haiti. Hughes, like many of his peers, mourned the death of the brilliant, anti-imperialist, Communist-affiliated ethnographer, poet and fiction writer Roumain, at age 37, in 1944.

In fact Hughes published the memorial elegy to Roumain, a Communist, in the October 2, 1945 issue of New Masses. I don't think it's Hughes' best work, but am fascinated by its tenderness and the ways in which Hughes invokes the Diaspora and links black--and Haitian vodoun specifically--culture to politics ("Erzulie to the Pope, / Damballa to Lenin / Haiti to the universe) throughout. The dialogue, Hughes suggests, continues even after death.

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