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Teaching Multicultural Literature : A Workshop for the Middle Grades
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Workshop 6: Historical and Cultural Context - Langston Hughes and Christopher Moore
Overview
Authors and Literary Works
Langston Hughes
Biography
Work
Christopher Moore
Biography
Work
Interview
Joyce Hansen/ Gary McGowan
Biography
Work
Barbara Chase-Riboud
Biography
Work
Key References
Video Summary
Teaching Strategies
Commentary
Student Work
Resources
Interactive Workbook -- Explore two poems using strategies from these workshops. Go.
Channel-Talk -- Share your views on the discussion board. Go.


Authors and Literary Works
The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes

This is the first collected edition of all the poems Langston Hughes published in his lifetime -- 868 poems, nearly 300 of which have never before appeared in book form. It was published in 1994, over a quarter of a century after the poet's death in 1967. The editor of this collection is Arnold Rampersad, who is also the author of the primary biography of Hughes, the two-volume Life of Langston Hughes. Rampersad is Cognizant Dean for the Humanities at Stanford University, and is a MacArthur Foundation Fellow.

The book includes a thorough chronology of Hughes's life and works. Detailed textual notes tell when and where each poem was originally published, and include extensive additional information that gives context to the poetry. The poems are arranged chronologically, which allows the reader not only to observe the development of Hughes's poetic gifts but also to monitor the often turbulent course of his involvement in the political events of his lifetime.

In his incisive introduction to the poems, Rampersad sums up Hughes's literary intentions:

Langston Hughes never sought to be all things to all people but rather aimed to create a body of work that epitomized the beauty and variety of the African American and the American experiences, as well as the diversity of emotions, thoughts, and dreams that he saw common to all human beings. He started out as a poet with a deep regard for the written word and a strong connection to the American past.

The Collected Poems opens with "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," one of Langston Hughes's most important poems. Its publication in 1921 launched his career. The poem appeared in The Crisis, the official publication of the NAACP, edited by the organization's founder, W.E.B. DuBois. Hughes wrote the poem when he was just 18, on a train to visit his father in Mexico. Hughes had a difficult relationship with his father, who had separated from his mother when he was a young boy.


Hughes wrote in his autobiography that as the train crossed the Mississippi River, he "began to think what that river, the old Mississippi, had meant to Negroes in the past -- how to be sold down the river was the worst fate that could overtake a slave in times of bondage... Then I began to think about of other rivers in our past -- the Congo, and the Niger, and the Nile in Africa." "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" has inspired many poets, scholars, critics, and anthologists to interpret his meaning. As Adrian Oktenberg saw it, "Moving by suggestion, by naming particular rivers and particular activities performed nearby, the poem implicates the whole history of African and American slavery without ever articulating the word." Onwuchekwa Jemie observed, "The Black man has seen the rise and fall of civilizations from the earliest times, seen the beauty and death-changes of the world over the thousands of years, and will survive even this America."

back to top Next: Christopher Moore: Biography
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