This is the first comprehensive selection from the correspondence of the iconic and beloved Langston Hughes. It offers a life in letters that showcases his many struggles as well as his memorable achievements. Arranged by decade and linked by expert commentary, the volume guides us through Hughes’s journey in all its aspects: personal, political, practical, and—above all—literary. His letters range from those written to family members, notably his father (who opposed Langston’s literary ambitions), and to friends, fellow artists, critics, and readers who sought him out by mail. These figures include personalities such as Carl Van Vechten, Blanche Knopf, Zora Neale Hurston, Arna Bontemps, Vachel Lindsay, Ezra Pound, Richard Wright, Kurt Weill, Carl Sandburg, Gwendolyn Brooks, James Baldwin, Martin Luther King, Jr., Alice Walker, Amiri Baraka, and Muhammad Ali. The letters tell the story of a determined poet precociously finding his mature voice; struggling to realize his literary goals in an environment generally hostile to blacks; reaching out bravely to the young and challenging them to aspire beyond the bonds of segregation; using his artistic prestige to serve the disenfranchised and the cause of social justice; irrepressibly laughing at the world despite its quirks and humiliations. Venturing bravely on what he called the “big sea” of life, Hughes made his way forward always aware that his only hope of self-fulfillment and a sense of personal integrity lay in diligently pursuing his literary vocation. Hughes’s voice in these pages, enhanced by photographs and quotations from his poetry, allows us to know him intimately and gives us an unusually rich picture of this generous, visionary, gratifyingly good man who was also a genius of modern American letters.
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.