February 1, 2002 marks the 100th birthday of Langston Hughes. To commemorate the centennial of his birth, Arnold Rampersad has contributed new Afterwords to both volumes of his highly-praised biography of this most extraordinary and prolific American writer.
The second volume in this masterful biography finds Hughes rooting himself in Harlem, receiving stimulation from his rich cultural surroundings. Here he rethought his view of art and radicalism, and cultivated relationships with younger, more militant writers such as Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, and Amiri Bakara. Rampersad's Afterword to volume two looks further into his influence and how it expanded beyond the literary as a result of his love of jazz and blues, his opera and musical theater collaborations, and his participation in radio and television. In addition, Rempersad explores the controversial matter of Hughes's sexuality and the possibility that, despite a lack of clear evidence, Hughes was homosexual.
Exhaustively researched in archival collections throughout the country, especially in the Langston Hughes papers at Yale University's Beinecke Library, and featuring fifty illustrations per volume, this anniversary edition will offer a new generation of readers entrance to the life and mind of one of the twentieth century's greatest artists.
The second and concluding volume of this biography of the distinguished black writer lives up to the high standard set by its critically praised predecessor. It follows Hughes from the 1940s, a discouraging period when he was ostracized as a radical and feared his career was over, through the 1950s and '60s, when he took hope from the civil rights movement yet felt alienated from younger, angrier writers such as James Baldwin and LeRoi Jones. The author, an English professor at Rutgers, astutely evaluates Hughes's complex personality: the charm that masked an essential aloofness; the intense attachments to younger men that led to a widespread assumption (never verified) that he was homosexual; above all, his love of the warmth and humor of ordinary black men and women. Rampersad is an unsparing but sympathetic analyst of Hughes's life and work; he has written an absorbing critical biography that is also a deft social history of black America in the 20th century. Photos not seen by PW.