by Langston Hughes ‧ RELEASE DATE: Aug. 1, 1996
Eight of the forty-seven stories in this welcome volume of Hughes's short fiction have never before been collected, and the rest are from long out-of-print books. The chronological arrangement (the pieces were written between 1919 and 1963) gives us a full appreciation of Hughes's evolution as a man of letters. Three high-school tales not previously collected demonstrate Hughes'syouthful social conscience and his early, solid command of his craft. His early protagonists struggle against poverty, leading lives of quiet sorrow. A series of sea stories reflects his own experience as a sailor, all involving trips to the West Coast of Africa, where, variously, sailors fight over a beautiful native girl, a naive missionary girl commits suicide after a sailor compromises her virtue, and a romantic European is entranced by his African wife. A number of pieces from the '30s concern the black artist's ambivalent relation to his white patrons: In ""The Blues I'm Playing,"" a brilliant pianist defies her condescending sponsor to marry a young doctor; and the bohemians in ""Slave on the Rock"" degrade their black servants while romanticizing the black race. Throughout the Depression, Hughes documented the struggle of blacks simply to survive. In one story, a homeless man hallucinates about breakinginto a church and finding Christ himself inside. Hughes's Communist sympathies also surface in a few pieces, as in a tale of racism and red-baiting at the WPA, or the superb record of a failed strike by black actors in ""Trouble with the Angels."" But many of the stories simply chronicle the vibrancy of Harlem life, the passions of ordinary black people, and the indignities of everyday racism. ""On Friday Morning"" is the heartbreaking tale of an aspiring artist denied her art school scholarship because of her race. Stories that, at their best, provide a remarkable portrait of black America over several crucial decades: an important collection that can only enhance our admiration of a great American writer.
Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1996
Page Count: 320
Publisher: Hill & Wang
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1996
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