Friday, February 01, 2008

Happy birthday, Langston

Today is Langston Hughes birthday, Feb. 1, 1902. Boy, I love this man’s poetry. It speaks to me on so many levels and resonates with readers and listeners of all ages and cultures. His collection, The Dream Keeper and Other Poems, is a staple of my poetry library and I refer to it often. (I chose it as one of “Fifteen Classics of Contemporary Poetry for Children” in my Book Links article in 2006; 15, (6), 12-15.) In fact, it was just reissued in a 75th anniversary edition (as I noted Dec. 31, 2007, in My favorite poetry books of 2007.) As I pored over previous blog postings to be sure I didn’t repeat myself, I realized that I refer to Hughes and his work often!

I wrote about his moving “Poem” (I loved my friend./He went away from me) last Sept. 21, 2007, and mentioned his work in my July 24, 2006 posting on “Multicultural Poetry” and my April 14, 2007 posting on Dream Day and my April 17, 2007 posting on the tragedy at Virginia Tech. Last year (Jan. 24), we celebrated Coretta Scott King Illustrator honors for Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes edited by David Roessel and Arnold Rampersad, illustrated by Benny Andrews (published by Sterling Publishing) and also highlighted Carol of the Brown King: Nativity Poems illustrated by Ashley Bryan (Dec. 22, 2006).

So, for a change, I’d like to pay tribute to Hughes’s life and work with a poem by someone else—Walter Dean Myers, a man who clearly stands on Langston Hughes’s shoulders. This poem is in the voice of a Harlem salesman and comes from Myers’s amazing multi-voiced photo-illustrated, Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices (Holiday House, 2004).

Jesse Craig, 38

by Walter Dean Myers

I knew Langston
Laughed with the man

In West Harlem
With me thinking

This is no Keats
No fair Shelley

This is Negro

Rice and collards
Down-home brother

He knew rivers
And rent-due blues

And what it meant
To poet Black

The Academy of American Poets is rich with additional information about Hughes and his work, including teaching resources and sample poems. There’s a wonderful audio clip from “The Voice of Langston Hughes” (by Folkways Records) of his reading of his poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” written in 1920, just after he graduated from high school! Additional audio (and more) can be found at the Langston Hughes Young Writers Project, including poems with musical accompaniment or translated into Spanish!

Thanks to Karen Edmisten for this week's Poetry Friday Round Up.

P.S. New: I’m honored to be linked to the Web site of Book Links as one of their new “Featured Blogs.”

Picture credit:


Karen E. said...

What a rich post -- thanks!

Anonymous said...


Excellent poem, excellent poem choice for today. Thanks, Sylvia

Sylvia Vardell said...

Thank you both, Karen and Kelly. I appreciate your stopping by to celebrate Langston's legacy with me!

Cloudscome said...

Hughes is one of my favorites too and I posted about him last weekend. I don't know how I missed this post! You have some great links here. I like the Myers poem very much.

Sylvia Vardell said...

Always great to meet up with a fellow Langston lover! Did you notice that Denzel Washington recited "I, Too" in the recent movie, "The Great Debaters" too? He's everywhere! :-)

azislibrarian said...

Dr. Vardell,

Langston Hughes is a great poet and I'm rpoud to know that he is being remembered. Thank you for being a beacon unto his memory.

azislibrarian said...

Dr. Vardell,

Thank you for being a beacon unto Langston's memory. When I read his poems, I believe that there's hope for the legacy of poetry. His work compells me to feel as though my life and words matter in poem form.
Hats off to Langston. Thank you again.