Langston Hughes: December 5, 1958

The Poetry Center presents Langston Hughes reading from his poetry and providing an extensive autobiographical account of his development as a poet.

Originally Recorded By
The Poetry Center
San Francisco Museum of Art
Total Run Time
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  • Introductory remarks: on his earlier residence in Carmel and his acquaintance with California poets including Marie Welch and Josephine Miles, on San Francisco as the place where "the vogue of reading poetry to jazz" was recently started by Kenneth Rexroth, Lawrence Ferlingetti, and Kenneth Patchen, on his Carmel friend Noel Sullivan as remembered in his autobiography "I Wonder As I Wander," on his birthplace Joplin, Missouri, and itinerant early life in, e.g., Buffalo, New York, Lawrence Kansas, and Lincoln, Illinois, and the origins in Lincoln of his life as a writer ("I became a poet by unanimous acclamation in the eighth grade"), high school years in Cleveland, and early influences including Paul Laurence Dunbar and Carl Sandburg (00:03)
  • "Dressed Up" (13:30)
  • Remarks on influence of Carl Sandburg and of Negro spirituals (13:53)
  • "When Sue Wears Red" (14:48)
  • Remarks on post-high school travel to Mexico visiting his father, his father's struggles against racial discrimination and inability to practice law in the U.S. followed by the choice to live in Mexico City, Hughes' own desire to live in Harlem ("cultural center of the Negro world") and its appeal via Duke Ellington, Ethel Waters, Paul Robeson, and others, his enrollment at Columbia University in New York and determination to become a writer, searching for work and running up against the "color line" ("we don't hire Negros.... We don't have a porter job today") and the later break-down of the "color line" after World War II in the major northern cities (15:19)
  • "Elevator Boy" (23:25)
  • Remarks on dead-end jobs and young Negros giving up, his decision to "see the world" and travel to Africa ("the Motherland of the Negro people") along the western coastal cities and his new-found feeling of pride in his racial background, and on the breakdown of "savage" and "primitive" images of African people. (24:05)
  • "My People" (27:04)
  • Remarks on travels to Europe, recognitions that the "color problem" was not limited to the U.S., his discovery of the "colonial problem" and European ownership (27:24)
  • "Long Trip" (30:04)
  • Remarks on travels to Rotterdam and Paris, his high school French and negotiating through sign-language, working as a doorman in an "underworld" nightclub, as dishwasher at the Grand Duc with its resident jazz band, and his first published poems written to jazz tunes with "something of a Charleston beat." (30:19)
  • "Negro Dancers" (37:00)
  • Remarks on Josephine Baker in Paris, his vacation travel to Venice, being pick-pocketed on the train back and his failures because of the "color line" to be hired as a ship-hand, his eventual return to the U.S. and engagement with folk-rhythms and interest in blues, his brief encounter with Vachel Lindsay in Washington, DC, slipping him "The Wearied Blues" and other poems while working as a busboy, and his "discovery" as a poet following Lindsay's reading of his poems from the stage, and subsequent publication by Alfred Knopf of his first book of poetry, "The Wearied Blues" (1926), and his first novel, "Not Without Laughter" (1929), and the differences between the blues and spirituals, on men's blues as involving work and women's blues as involving love. (37:37)
  • "Out Of Work" (48:53)
  • Remarks on the combination of sadness and humor in blues and jazz, on the gospel song as a "written spiritual," and on Mahalia Jackson. Introduction to "Judgment Day" (49:37)
  • "Judgment Day" (51:47)
  • Introduction to "My Lord" (52:15)
  • "My Lord" (52:35)
  • Remarks on his 1956 black gospel musical play "Tambourines to Glory," on himself as a "social poet" who "expresses the problems of a great number of other people in my country," on the "race problem" as "puzzling to colored people themselves," on racial segregation in schools and variations throughout geographic regions of the U.S. (54:11)
  • "Merry-go-round" (58:58)
  • Remarks on church bombings in the U.S. deep south, segregation battles in Little Rock, Arkansas, on Orville Faubus, and on multi-racial resistance to segregation and historic resistance by whites and blacks against slavery. (59:29)
  • "I, Too" (01:02:03)
  • Remarks on his books for young people, including "Famous Negro Heroes" (1958), and Matthew Henson's travel to the North Pole with the Robert Peary expedition. (01:02:31)
  • Audio cuts out mid-sentence (01:04:29)

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