LANGSTON HUGHES edited by D. Roessel and A. Rampersand, illustrated by B. Andrews

Langston Hughes

 

Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes is a volume of poetry that should be in every child’s and in every classroom’s library.

 

This collection includes 26 of Langston Hughes’ poems that are bold articulations of the injustices African-Americans have endured and moving tributes to the strength and depth of their culture. Included in this volume are the poems Mother to Son (“Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair”), The Negro Speaks of Rivers, My People, and I, Too (a response to Walt Whitman’s I Hear America Singing.) The poems in this collection have been picked based of their content, not on their form. There are some poems here that have similar structure such as a blues style repetition of the first couplet in a stanza in Homesick Blues and Hey! But what makes this compilation so compelling is how the poems work together to convey Hughes’ richly textured tribute to his African-American heritage. As the Black cinematographer Arthur Jafa pointed out recently, it’s not just that “Black lives matter”, Black culture matters too.

Benny Andrews’ paintings complement the mood of each poem beautifully. The elongated human forms are either completely elastic or completely static, conjuring feelings of joy, pride, longing, stoicism, or weariness in perfect concert with the text. Each poem has a brief introduction provided by two Hughes experts, David Roessel and Arnold Rampersad. The poems can certainly be enjoyed without these notes, but in their inclusion of quotes from Hughes and their explanation of thematic connections to other poems, they contribute to the richness of this book as an introduction to Langston Hughes’ oeuvre.