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In Praise of Langston Hughes In Praise of Langston Hughes
In Praise of Langston Hughes

Naked bodies rock and sway as ‘Legba sings—

King Creole plays,

There ain’t no snow white angels who will ever stay—

when they dance in Congo Square.

Books by Langston Hughes

Weary Blues (1926) / The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes  /  The Ways of White Folks (Stories) / The Big Sea: An Autobiography

Best of Simple    /  I Wonder as I Wander: An Autobiographical Journey  / New Negro Poets U.S.A.

Not Without Laughter  /Five Plays by Langston Hughes / Selected Poems of Langston Hughes

Ask Your Mama: Twelve Moods for Jazz / Fine Clothes to the Jew / The Collected Works of Langston Hughes (Poems 1921-1940)

*   *   *   *   *

 

In Praise of Langston Hughes

By Amin Sharif

I. Spiritual

He sang:

I know a people black and tan! Singin’ a Weary Blues!

Singin’ a Weary Blues. Weary Blues!

They sing it ‘neath the sun near a cotton white Sea

Waitin’ on a Moses to part their misery,

But Moses can’t hear ’em ’cause he’s at rest

Lolled and sleepin’ on ol’ Pharaoh’s Sister’s breast—

Wake up, Moses! Wake up! Your People Want to be Free!!

They make us build Ol’ Pharaoh’s House

with black bricks, sweat and mud,

But God’s ‘venging angel will be makin’ Eygpt

pay in blood.

Wake up, Moses! Wake up!

Seven plagues for their deep sin—

But Pharaoh still kept on a holdin’ on them.

If he won’t pay heed to the Judgment Day

Killin’ angel will take each first son away.

Raise up, Moses! Rise, up! Singin’ a Weary Blues!

II. Voodoo Chant

He sang:

I know a people black and tan! Singin’ a Weary Blues!

Singin’ a Weary Blues! Weary Blues!

At twilight down in New Orleans

I have seen mulatto Kings and Creole Queens

Dance in Congo Square.

They are the children of white fleeting love,

yet they worship even darker gods,

Than ever you or me—

when they dance in Congo Square.

Naked bodies rock and sway as ‘Legba sings—

King Creole plays,

There ain’t no snow white angels who will ever stay—

when they dance in Congo Square.

For seen beside the fire’s light

Voodoo gods come out to fight,

and long dead souls shake up the night

When they dance in Congo Square.

III. Minstrel

He sang:

I know a people black and tan! Singin’ a Weary Blues! Singin’ a Weary Blues!

Weary Blues!

I am the Jonah man!

Swallowed up by the whale

but I rests uneasily between his teeth.

Dance a Juba! Dance a Juba, Jonah Man!

I am the Jonah man!

My troubles are so deep

that I and the whale can

only laugh at them in the darkness.

When ole master hears

rumblin’ in the whale’s belly,

He thinks it’s the Good Lord’s

thunder.

Dance a Juba! Dance a Juba, Jonah Man!

But he laughs when the whale

opens his mouth,

And he sees only me.

How’s the mornin’ light,

I asks?

None for you,

The old master answers-

Jonah men can only dance

when the moon shines down

into the belly of a whale.

Dance a Juba! Dance a Juba, Jonah Man!

But what ole master says

Don’t bother me none,

One day the whale will throw

me out.

Then I’ll dance

Black as the whale’s darkness

in the sun!

Dance a Juba! Dance a Juba, Jonah Man!

It makes no difference.

*   *   *   *   *

Scholarly Books on Langston Hughes

Martha Cobb. Harlem,  Haiti, and Havana: A comparative critical study of Langston Hughes, Jacques Roumain, Nicolás Guillén. 1979.

Faith Berry. Before & Beyond Harlem: Biography of Langston Hughes. 1995.

Onwuchekwa Jemie Langston Hughes: An Introduction to the Poetry (1985)

Edward J. Mullen. Langston Hughes in the Hispanic World and Haiti (1971)

Arnold Rampersad. The Life of Langston Hughes: Volume I: 1902-1941, I, Too, Sing America (Life of Langston Hughes, 1902-1941). 2002

Arnold Rampersad. The Life of Langston Hughes: Volume II: 1914-1967, I Dream a World (Life of Langston Hughes, 1941-1967). 2002

Steven C. Tracy. Langston Hughes and the Blues. 2001

R. Baxter Miller. The Art And Imagination of Langston Hughes. 2006.

Jonathan Scott Socialist Joy in the Writing of Langston Hughes. 2006

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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.”

We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

*   *   *   *   *

Ratification

The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788

By Pauline Maier

A notable historian of the early republic, Maier devoted a decade to studying the immense documentation of the ratification of the Constitution. Scholars might approach her book’s footnotes first, but history fans who delve into her narrative will meet delegates to the state conventions whom most history books, absorbed with the Founders, have relegated to obscurity. Yet, prominent in their local counties and towns, they influenced a convention’s decision to accept or reject the Constitution. Their biographies and democratic credentials emerge in Maier’s accounts of their elections to a convention, the political attitudes they carried to the conclave, and their declamations from the floor. The latter expressed opponents’ objections to provisions of the Constitution, some of which seem anachronistic (election regulation raised hackles) and some of which are thoroughly contemporary (the power to tax individuals directly).

Ripostes from proponents, the Federalists, animate the great detail Maier provides, as does her recounting how one state convention’s verdict affected another’s. Displaying the grudging grassroots blessing the Constitution originally received, Maier eruditely yet accessibly revives a neglected but critical passage in American history.—Booklist

update 3 October 2012

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