Nikky Finney: On Langston Hughes

In Huffington Post’s recent installment of “Where I Like to Read,” poet and National Book Award winner Nikky Finney offers details of her affinity for reading amongst trees. When asked about the last book she read, she mentions “A biography of Langston Hughes. It was done about 10 or 15 years ago – I loved it.” Although Finney doesn’t give an exact title, I assume it’s Arnold Rampersad’s The Life of Langston Hughes, Volumes I & II, the book she discussed with NPR in February 2012. More on this work below:

In young adulthood Hughes possessed a nomadic but dedicated spirit that led him from Mexico to Africa and the Soviet Union to Japan, and countless other stops around the globe. Associating with political activists, patrons, and fellow artists, and drawing inspiration from both Walt Whitman and the vibrant Afro-American culture, Hughes soon became the most original and revered of black poets. In the first volume’s Afterword, Rampersad looks back at the significant early works Hughes produced, the genres he explored, and offers a new perspective on Hughes’s lasting literary influence.

The second volume in this masterful biography finds Hughes rooting himself in Harlem, receiving stimulation from his rich cultural surroundings. Here he rethought his view of art and radicalism, and cultivated relationships with younger, more militant writers such as Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, and Amiri Bakara. Rampersad’s Afterword to volume two looks further into his influence and how it expanded beyond the literary as a result of his love of jazz and blues, his opera and musical theater collaborations, and his participation in radio and television. In addition, Rempersad explores the controversial matter of Hughes’s sexuality and the possibility that, despite a lack of clear evidence, Hughes was homosexual. Exhaustively researched in archival collections throughout the country, especially in the Langston Hughes papers at Yale University’s Beinecke Library, and featuring fifty illustrations per volume, this anniversary edition will offer a new generation of readers entrance to the life and mind of one of the twentieth century’s greatest artists.

Rampersad has also published poetry anthologies and written several other biographies for cultural icons like Arthur Ashe, Jackie Robinson, W.E.B. DuBois, and Ralph Ellison.

While I am interested in a biography on Langston Hughes, I don’t know if I want to read 2 volumes totaling nearly 1,200 pages. That’s some serious details. I’m not ready!

Happy reading, y’all.

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