A welcome reintroduction to the pioneering African-American writer's most memorable fictional character. Already a popular poet, playwright, novelist, and key figure in the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes (1902-67) introduced Jesse B. Semple (``Simple'') to readers in 1942 in his Chicago Defender column, ``From Here to Yonder,'' as a way to convince black Americans to support the US war effort. From his familiar perch in a fictional Harlem bar, Simple held forth on a variety of subjects in his own inimitable, folksy way, and over the next 23 years his musings were collected in five volumes. The Return of Simple brings together mostly uncollected columns as well as a few favorites from previous collections. Simple's sometimes tall tales of growing up in the South and migrating to Harlem are timeless. Race riots, low wages, interracial marriages, adopting an African name, and birth control are some of the subjects on which he expounds to his erudite, educated fellow barfly, who always acts the straight man. Then there is Simple's favorite subject--``womens,'' including his wild cousin Minnie (``The Lord, I reckon, gave her them ball- bearing hips, but the Devil must of taught her how to use them''); Zarita, who is always ``drinking him up''; and his second wife, Joyce (``Eve in the garden could not be no better, because Eve had no stove on which to cook''). Simple speaks with a poetic and easy logic (``It is better to be wore out from living than to be worn out from worry'') in a voice that comes straight out of the African-American folk tradition, but Hughes's slices of urban black life belong also to the larger continuum of great American humor, from Mark Twain to Armistead Maupin. Quite simply, an indispensable part of our cultural heritage.