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's youthful 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 naãve 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 breaking into 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.