Ronald Grey

Making Americans With Poetry

Advertisements

Langston Hughes (Photo/National Park Service)

The students had already chosen all of their other graduating class officers with relative ease, but the eighth graders slammed into an awkward silence when pressed to nominate a candidate for their last vote of the day: Class Poet.

Some may have been wondering how the older students they were copying at the high-school decided. Some may have wondered about a common stereotype their teacher reminded them of that said people with darker skin had a naturally better sense of rhythm.

Finally, one broke the silence, stood up shyly and nominated the only dark boy in class. The vote was unanimous: Langston Hughes became a poet.

American Poetry as World Literature

Music and concepts of identity were associated with Hughes from that 1916 election that set him on a long and illustrious career as a poet. A few years later, the roaring 20s ushered the Harlem Renaissance and with it a sense of self-identity.

Some in the black community accused this commercial identity of not taking a serious interest in jazz and its roots in the blues. They believed the music could identify with a more radical coming of age for blacks in an America still dominated by white supremacy and segregated long after Reconstruction.

But that same, serious interest in the music helped do away instead with any such attempts institutionalize segregation — Hughes made blues and jazz music more accessible to people around the world, thus forming a more perfect union through what many now identify as the gold standard of American poetry.

References

Baker, Houston A. Blues, Ideology, and Afro-American Literature: A Vernacular Theory.Chicago:University of Chicago Press, 1984.

Bloom, Harold. Langston Hughes: Comprehensive Research and Study Guide. Bloom’s Major Poets. Broomall, PA: Chelsea House Publishers, 1999.

Burkhart, Charles. Anthology for Musical Analysis. 5th ed. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1994.

Grout, Donald Jay and Claude V. Palisca. A History of Western Music. 5th ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 1996.

Homer, Robert Fagles, and Bernard MacGregor Walker Knox. Iliad. English; the Iliad. New York,N.Y.: Viking, 1990.

Huggins, Nathan Irvin. Harlem Renaissance. London; New York: Oxford University Press, 1973.

Hughes, Langston. “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain.” in Voices from the Harlem Renaissance, edited by Nathan Irvin Huggins, 305-309. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Hughes, Langston and J. D. McClatchy. The Voice of the Poet: Langston Hughes. Anonymous 2002. Random House Audio.

Kirchner, Bill. The Oxford Companion to Jazz.Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Rampersad, Arnold. Jackie Robinson: A Biography. 1st ed.New York: Knopf, 1997.

———. The Life of Langston Hughes. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.

Randel, Don Michael, ed.  The Harvard Dictionary of Music. Harvard University Press Reference Library. 4th ed ed. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003.

Tracy, Steven C. Langston Hughes & the Blues. 1st pbk. ed. Urbana:University of Illinois Press, 2001.

Advertisements