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My Dear Boy

Carrie Hughes's Letters to Langston Hughes, 1926-1938

Carmeletta M. Williams

Publication Year: 2013

My Dear Boy brings a largely unexplored dimension of Langston Hughes to light. Carmaletta Williams and John Edgar Tidwell explain that scholars have neglected the vital role that correspondence between Carrie Hughes and her son Langston—Harlem Renaissance icon, renowned poet, playwright, fiction writer, autobiographer, and essayist—played in his work.

The more than 120 heretofore unexamined letters presented here are a veritable treasure trove of insights into the relationship between mother Carrie and her renowned son Langston. Until now, a scholarly consensus had begun to emerge, accepting the idea of their lives and his art as simple and transparent. But as Williams and Tidwell argue, this correspondence is precisely where scholars should start in order to understand the underlying complexity in Carrie and Langston’s relationship. By employing Family Systems Theory for the first time in Hughes scholarship, they demonstrate that it is an essential heuristic for analyzing the Hughes family and its influence on his work. The study takes the critical truism about Langston’s reticence to reveal his inner self and shows how his responses to Carrie were usually not in return letters but, instead, in his created art. Thus My Dear Boy reveals the difficult negotiations between family and art that Langston engaged in as he attempted to sustain an elusive but enduring artistic reputation.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Title Page, Frontispiece, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Following Langston: A Foreword

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pp. ix-xii

Late summer 1967. Sumter, South Carolina. Jet magazine has just arrived as it does each and every month. Mama sits in her chair reading through the current Black history news, holding the tiny Jet pages by their corners and reading aloud in her most operatic voice. She includes in her reading news of any deaths she believes should matter to us children, whether we ...

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Preface

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pp. xiii-xviii

I want you to help me this time and I won?t bother you ever again. Dear, why don?t you love me. Why aren?t we more loving and chummy. Why don?t you ever confide in me. I know I have no sense to help you in your work but I?d enjoy your confidence. Now Langston, I have no one else to talk to, you will agree with me and help me won?t you if you can? Please don?t be angry because I want to go, for ...

Abbreviations

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pp. xix-xx

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Chronology

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pp. xxi-xxviii

...1869 Charles Langston and Mary Leary wed on January 18. Charles brings a foster son, Desalines, to the marriage, and Mary brings Loise, her daughter with Lewis Sheridan Leary. (Leary died from injuries incurred during the 1859 raid on the federal arsenal at 1870 A son, Nathaniel Turner Langston, is born to Charles and Mary....

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Prologue

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pp. 1-20

The renowned poet, fiction writer, playwright, essayist, and humorist Langston Hughes has been the subject of countless biographies, critical studies, celebratory conferences and symposia, and other well-earned ac-knowledgments of his enduring body of creative writing. Hughes is widely acclaimed for his shaping influence on the development of African Ameri-...

The Letters

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Dreams Deferred, 1926–1929

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pp. 23-38

The letters in this period effectively comprise an introduction, framing a number of themes, issues, and problems that Carrie develops in subsequent correspondence. Implicitly, they record a subtle erosion of her optimism about life and the many dreams she held out for success on her own terms. What unfolds is her deepening realization of how she must ...

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Zenith and Descent, 1930–1934

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pp. 39-90

The correspondence in these five years records the long, arduous journey culminating in Carrie achieving the one shining moment in her adult life: her successful appearance on stage as an actress. Inasmuch as the letters document the pinnacle of her happiness, they also reveal empathy-induc-ing narratives of her descent into a valley of desperation, poverty, loneli-...

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Things Fall Apart, 1935

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pp. 91-128

The year 1935 proves to be, arguably, the lowest point in Carrie?s life. If the thirty-three letters she writes to Langston are any indication?the most in any of the twelve years represented here?her precipitous fall following her stint on stage signifies she has reached rock bottom. The pressure she puts on Langston to fuse more fully with her and Gwyn increases exponentially. ...

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Dear Lovely Death, 1936–1938

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pp. 129-160

Fascination with death properly belongs also to Langston?a number of his poems from this period reflect grief, loneliness, pathos, and melan-choly?but after Carrie?s discovery of the ?blood tumor? on her breast, a subtle shift of tone in the extant letters of this three-year period hints at her awareness of mortality. She appears to be less demanding, acerbic, ...

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Coda

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pp. 161-162

Carrie had gotten worse by the time Langston moved her into his newly leased Harlem apartment in March 1938. She collapsed for the last time on Friday, June 3, at around four in the morning. At age sixty-five, the cancer that had consumed her body took her life. She died at Deaconess Hospital in Manhattan, where Langston had rushed her a few hours earlier. Langs-...

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Epilogue

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pp. 163-184

If this book?s prologue?a formulation of Carrie Hughes?s manner of in-fluence?can be said to issue a call, its epilogue becomes Langston?s sub-tle, previously unexplored response?not through his correspondence but through the resonance of his art. Because his essential nature was to be emotionally unrevealing, Langston deliberately constructed a concerned ...

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Second Coda

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pp. 185-186

In his first memoir, The Big Sea (1940), Langston frames the period of the Harlem Renaissance in terms of its effervescence as a cultural moment. ?But certainly,? he writes, ?it was the musical revue, Shuffle Along (1921), that gave a scintillating send-off to that Negro vogue in Manhattan, which reached its peak just before the crash of 1929, the crash that sent Negroes, ...

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Images

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pp. 187-196

Langston Hughes as a baby, with mother, Carolyn Hughes. Printed by permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated. Copyright ? 2013 by the Estate of Langston Hughes. Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Father, James Nathaniel Hughes. Printed by permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated. Copyright ? 2013 by the Estate of Langston Hughes. Yale Collection ...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. 197-200

We have many people to whom we wish to express our deepest gratitude for their generous support and unfailing assistance as we worked to create this book. We wish to thank Timothy Young, curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts at the Beinecke Library at Yale University, for providing us insight into the difficulties of determining precise dates for the dona-...

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Works Consulted

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pp. 201-204

Bernard, Emily, ed. Remember Me to Harlem: The Letters of Langston Hughes and Berry, Faith, ed. Good Morning Revolution: Uncollected Social Protest Writings.???. Langston Hughes: Before and Beyond Harlem. Westport: Lawrence Hill, Bowen, Murray. Family Therapy in Clinical Practice. New York: Aronson, 1978.Bump, Jerome. ?The Family Dynamics of the Reception of Art.? Style 31.2 ...

Index

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pp. 205-209


E-ISBN-13: 9780820346397
E-ISBN-10: 082034639X

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 13 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2013