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Scholars revive Langston Hughes Review

Monday, April 01, 2019

LAWRENCE – Writer and social activist Langston Hughes lived from 1901 to 1967. The Langston Hughes Society published the semiannual scholarly journal The Langston Hughes Review from 1982 to 2011. So why is it being revived now, under the editorship of Tony Bolden, University of Kansas associate professor of African & African-American studies?

“What we want to try to do is project Langston Hughes – his vision – into the 21st century, to engage his views in the here and now, and see how and where those perspectives intersect,” Bolden said.

The first new edition of the revived Langston Hughes Review will be published this month by Penn State University Press, and Bolden said he already has a couple of years’ worth of topics planned for the journal to explore.

Bolden said he is pleased that the inaugural issue of the new phase of LHR will have a “prestigious lineup” of contributing scholars. Wallace Best, professor of religion and African American studies at Princeton University, is the edition’s guest editor, and the issue grew out of a conference Best organized in 2017 titled “Remembering Langston Hughes: His Art, Life and Legacy 50 Years Later.” Best is the author of the 2017 book “Langston’s Salvation: American Religion and the Bard of Harlem” (New York University Press). Hughes biographer Arnold Rampersad (“The Life of Langston Hughes,” 1986, 1988, Oxford University Press) has also contributed an article.

“The essays address a range of different issues related to Hughes,” Bolden said. “They're looking at Hughes in retrospect, from the vantage point of the 21st century. …  and what you find is that there are a lot of issues have yet to be settled. For instance, his sexuality. The guest editor states flat out that this is simply unsettled, that there's no definitive positionality, as we understand it today, that seems to fit him, other than he was sexually free. Another author, Carma Williams, discusses his autobiography, ‘I Wonder as I Wander,’ and she talks about his many liaisons with women. So the writers engage a number of different things about him.”

The next issue Bolden is working on will focus on Hughes’ relationship with fellow 20th-century writer and race man Amiri Baraka.

“Hughes was the elder statesman, and Baraka was the young upstart, if you will,” Bolden said. “Publicly, Hughes praised Baraka. But privately, in some of his letters, he was critical of some of the contradictions that Baraka had, particularly during his cultural nationalist phase. But there was a mutual respect. Hughes saw Baraka’s talent. That was clear to everyone. And I think as the years passed, Baraka saw the value of Hughes.”

Other forthcoming editions of the journal that Bolden will edit will focus on the late black feminist writer Ntozake Shange, a collection of Chinese scholars’ perspectives on Hughes, and an issue commemorating the theme of black love in Zora Neale Hurston’s novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” Bolden said his job as journal editor is to project a vision for LHR, create new discursive forums related to Hughes and his contemporaries, and cultivate “good material” from contributors.

“You have to figure out a niche forum that attracts people that have something to say,” Bolden said. “It’s been fun, but it’s a challenge.”

Bolden said the review’s former editor retired a few years ago, and the society had been casting about for a new home and editor ever since 2011. He said the fact that Hughes grew up in Lawrence, that KU has respected scholars in English, American studies and African and African-American studies departments, including several who have been working on a documentary film about Hughes, made the university “a logical place.”

The new edition of the journal will extend the numbering system of the old one. The forthcoming edition will thus be Volume 25, Number 1. It will be published both in physical form and online, Bolden said.