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Reviewed by:
  • Montage of Dream: The Art and Life of Langston Hughes
  • Mary Hricko
John Edgar Tidwell and Cheryl R. Ragar, eds. Montage of Dream: The Art and Life of Langston Hughes. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 2007. 408 pp. $44.95.

Montage of Dream: The Art and Life of Langston Hughes is a collection of eighteen essays that offer new research on Hughes's literary accomplishment, biography, and critical review. In the introduction, the editors provide an overview of the collection and offer a brief historical overview that summarizes Hughes's literary development. The essays are arranged in five sections that broaden the contexts of Hughes's literary force through contemporary examinations. A poem entitled "Poem for Langston" written by Cheikh Amadou Dieng (translated by Mame Selebee Dioff) and a foreword by Arnold Rampersad are included in the introductory material.

In the first section of the book, "The Sacred and the Secular," essays by Steven C. Tracy, Trudier Harris, and Elizabeth Schultz examine Hughes's use of secular (jazz and blues) themes in his works. While Harris's essay examines the role of Hughes's bluesmen in his poetry, Tracy and Schultz each provide a closer look at how blues and jazz are represented in Hughes's prose work Not Without Laughter. Together, these articles establish a link between Hughes's poetic themes and prose symbols. The emphasis of the "low-down folk" clearly emerges as a pattern of importance in Hughes's work.

The second section of the book, "The Public and the Private," includes essays that address aspects of Hughes's biography that will indeed prompt further inquiry. Co-editor John Edgar Tidwell's essay provides an objective discussion of the debate surrounding Hughes's sexual preferences as a result of his personal relationships. Tidwell's purpose is designed to explain why this debate persists and why critics from both sides maintain their position. Juda Bennett and Kimberly J. Banks each examine patterns in his texts that reflect Hughes's sexual persona through characterization. Bennett's review of Not Without Laughter, The Big Sea, and I Wonder As I Wander as Hughes's personal trilogy of his sexual maturation is an interesting premise. Banks also examines Not Without Laughter, but focuses on how Hughes's use of the blueswoman fosters a "cross-gender subjectivity" which in turn gives rise to the protagonist's "emergent masculinity." The final article in this section examines the letters between Hughes and his mother, Carrie Hughes Clark. Regennia N. Williams and Carmaletta M. Williams discuss the contexts of these letters to reveal more details about the mother/ son relationship. This article offers more detail about Carrie Hughes Clark than many of the other existing biographical works on Hughes and is no doubt a valuable element in understanding how Hughes's personal life had impact on his perspectives. [End Page 517]

The third section of the collection, "Revolutions Literary and Political," serves to validate Hughes's sociopolitical writings as well as his contribution to the modernist aesthetic. Jeffrey A. Schwartz's presentation of Hughes's short story "Luani of the Jungle" as a response to Josef Conrad's Heart of Darkness is a thought-provoking read because it further demonstrates Hughes's talent for subversion as expressed through his craft as a writer. Similarly, Robert Young's discussion of Hughes's "Red" poetics discusses Hughes's innate skill to reveal social protest through what Young refers to as a "dis-alienation." Young's concept, in turn, may be seen as a transitional theme in Hughes's writing. Hence, instead of viewing Hughes's writings of the 1930s as an aberration in his literary career as some critics have done, readers can understand through Young's interpretation that Hughes's revolutionary spirit was empowered by his sense of alienation through race and class structures. It is this sense of alienation that links Hughes to the modernist tradition and this idea along with the themes in The Ways of White Folks that is the focus of Sandra Govan's article. Govan's reading of Hughes's short stories is valuable because it offers discussion of the significance of Hughes's short prose in its relationship...


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pp. 517-519
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