Monday, February 6, 2012

For Langston Hughes (1902-1967), My Dickens

Yesterday, I received a  "non-occasion gift" from a dear friend who knew my affection for Langston Hughes--poet, essayist, columnist, anthologist, playwright, historian, internationalist, Pan Africanist, pan humanist--this red book packed safely away in bubble wrap, signed by Brian Pinkney, the wonderful illustrator of this school edition, came a long way over the sea Hughes so often wrote about:
"Water-Front Streets"
The Spring is not so beautiful there--
but dream ships sail away
To where the spring is wondrous rare
and life is gay.

The spring is not so beautiful there--
But lads put out to sea
Who carry beauties in their hearts
And dreams like me.

It now seems two public thinkers anchored my early life, Hughes with his daily Jess B. Simple columns in the New York Post, then a progressive workers' paper which my mother read on her long subway ride to her bookkeeper's job every day and Eleanor Roosevelt who also took to writing a column later in her life. Hughes went on to be my constant companion in my 30 years of teaching in the Queens College SEEK Program; every book I touched whether it was the great Haitian masterpiece, "Master's of the Dew," by Jacques Romain or the collected poetry of the Negritude period or anthologies of Black poets, Hughes had always been there first. I read and saw through his eyes, his commitment to ending the invisibility of such needed work, of making sure the words that  peoples needed to survive killing histories of colonialism
and racism  was where they could find them. Words, visions, understandings, that anyone touched by bigoted exclusions, would grasp for hope, comfort, strength and an end to a kind of loneliness with history.
More to come

1 comment: