Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes and Studs Terkel in 1960

Note: the audio linked below is temporarily unavailable.

Thanks to George Drury and Lois Baum, PennSound has recently added a stunningly good cache of audio recordings from the “Word of Mouth” series, originally aired on WFMT at Loyola University, Chicago. Among these recordings is a conversation among Langston Hughes, John Sellers, James Cotton, and Otis Spann, moderated by Studs Terkel, at Roosevelt University, aired on WFMT on July 15, 1960. Here is your link to the forty-seven-minute audio: MP3. (We are in the process of segmenting this recording by topic. Stay tuned, as it were.)

Multilingual sounds

Coca-Cola's "It's Beautiful" vs. LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs's TwERK

LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs's TwERK
LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs's TwERK

Is multilingual poetry any different from other representations of multilingualism in contemporary culture? In my previously two commentaries, I've looked at some of the things that multilingual poetry does differently than other kinds of poetry. But what does it do differently from other cultural forms that are also multilingual?

One recent example of a multilingual cultural text is Coca-Cola's 2014 Super Bowl commercial "It's Beautiful," which was also shown during the Sochi Olympic Games. This ad touched a nerve because it features eight tween girls singing "America the Beautiful" — but they do so in, Spanish, Tagalog, Mandarin, Hebrew, Keres, Senegalese French, and Arabic as well as English (quelle horreur!). Beginning in English with a shot of a cowboy on a white horse, the ad includes diaphanously lit outdoor scenes, wholesome images of kids in a movie theater, surfers bobbing on the waves, break-dancers, a family on a roadtrip, a brightly lit Chinatown. Representations of urban modernity and rural tradition are seamlessly interwoven, and all differences are overcome through the shared melody of the girls' multilingual hymn. 

'I have questions': Kalamu ya Salaam and Langston Hughes

'Montage of a Dream Deferred'

Beinecke Library, James Weldon Johnson Collection, Yale Collection of American Literature

i have questions. what do you mean by epic. the only “epic” i teach and enjoy teaching is the epic of gilgamesh. i’m not sure what definition you are using for epic. but in my immediate literary heritage and influences, the book length poetry selection that has deeply influenced my own writing and appreciation for literature is langston hughes’ montage of a dream deferred. there is nothing else in what might be considered the epic category that i relate to with any enthusiasm.


Drawing on African American popular music “jazz, ragtime, swing, blues, boogie-woogie and be-bop” (Collected 387) Montage of a Dream Deferred is made up of eighty-seven parts and shows Hughes’s ultimate conception of the poem as epic and as a book-length work. In the epigraph to Montage, Hughes writes, “this poem on contemporary Harlem, like be-bop, is marked by conflicting changes, sudden nuances, sharp and impudent interjections, broken rhythms, and passages sometimes in the matter of the jam session” (Collected 387).

More than half of the Langston Hughes poems in the second edition of the Norton Anthology of African American Literature (2004) are short lyrics from the 1920s — those poems for which Hughes is most well known such as “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” (1921) and “Danse Africaine” (1922). The works of Hughes first published in the 1950s that are included in this Norton anthology (“Juke Box Love Song,” “Dream Boogie,” “Harlem,” and “Motto”) that appear to be short lyrics as well are all actually part of Montage of a Dream Deferred (1951). Yet there is no indication of that, leading readers to believe that Hughes’s poetics had not shifted in thirty years.

Importantly, Hughes’s use of the epic genre in the late 1940s and early 1950s[i] signals that his concern with African American collectivity began to require a longer form.

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