This two-volume set is the definitive biography of Langston
Hughes, the poet laureate of the Harlem Renaissance.
Beginning with a family history linked to abolitionists, the
Underground Railroad, John Brown's attack on Harper's Ferry,
and the anti-slavery settlement of Lawrence, Kansas, author Rampersad
delves deeply into the context of Hughes's life. From his
tumultuous relationship with his father to his travels to the South
and abroad, to the largesse and patronage he received from
admirers of his work, to his life as a Harlem literary cognoscenti.
That Hughes spoke eloquently for the black masses is well
known. Less known are the interesting turns and connections
that brought him to recognition. In The Life of Langston Hughes,
the stories abound. While on a tour of the South, and as the riveting
Scottsboro case exploded onto the international scene,
Hughes visited the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
"Although UNC was probably the most progressive white university in
the South, for a black speaker to be featured there was
extraordinary." In advance of his visit, he forwarded an essay
about Scottsboro: "Let the Alabama mill-owners pay white
women decent wages so they won't need to be prostitutes, he
urged. And let the sensible citizens of Alabama (if there are any)
supply schools for the black populace of their state, (and for the
half-black, too—the mulatto children of the Southern gentlemen.
[I reckon they're gentlemen]) so the Negroes won't be so dumb
again. As for the jailed men—if blacks didn't howl in protest (and
I don't mean a polite howl, either) then let Dixie justice (blind
syphilitic as it may be) take its course." Langston "slipped in and
out of Chapel Hill" before the response to the essay erupted.
This is a great biography of a complex man who lived fully in
defiance of stereotypes of brutish and illiterate black manhood.
His life was one of courage, adventure, and amazing creativity.
Rampersad captures that life with memorable success.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The second and concluding volume of this biography of the distinguished black writer lives up to the high standard set by its critically praised predecessor. It follows Hughes from the 1940s, a discouraging period when he was ostracized as a radical and feared his career was over, through the 1950s and '60s, when he took hope from the civil rights movement yet felt alienated from younger, angrier writers such as James Baldwin and LeRoi Jones. The author, an English professor at Rutgers, astutely evaluates Hughes's complex personality: the charm that masked an essential aloofness; the intense attachments to younger men that led to a widespread assumption (never verified) that he was homosexual; above all, his love of the warmth and humor of ordinary black men and women. Rampersad is an unsparing but sympathetic analyst of Hughes's life and work; he has written an absorbing critical biography that is also a deft social history of black America in the 20th century. Photos not seen by PW. (October)
With this final volume of his superb biography, Rampersad comes to the racist exclusion and crippling attacks from the right that forced Hughes to scramble for a meager living. Rampersad effectively conveys not only the complex, frustrating difficulties of Hughes's work in poetry, opera, musical theater, children's books, and popular history but the rigors and humiliation of his speaking tours and tormenting trial before the McCarthy committee. Even when he was doing hackwork, the true artist in Hughes created in his Simple stories a beloved character kept brilliantly alive. With volume 1 ( LJ 8/86), this balanced, honest biography offers deep insights into a major artist's personality and work as well as a sweeping view of American culture in his lifetime. Milton Meltzer, New York
From the Publisher
"There can be no question about the importance of Rampersad's biography...without doubt the definitive Hughes biography."James Olney, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge
"The best biography of Hughes ever written, and in my opinion it is also the best biography of a black American ever written."Arna A. Bontemps, Hampton University
"Excellent....Mr. Rampersad [leaves] you eager to see what he makes of the rest of the story, and confident that his second volume will be as good as his first."John Gross, The New York Times
"A near-perfect example of the biographer's art, balanced, and thought-provoking."Kirkus Reviews
"This is a book I have waited half a lifetime for."Alice Walker
"[An] exceptional biography."Voice Literary Supplement
"Throughout this comprehensive and enthralling account of Hughes's life and his development as a writer, Rampersad offers a precise assessment of his work and its importance...This may be the best biography of a black writer we have had."David Nicholson, The Washington Post Book World
"Absorbing....Readers can certainly applaud this beautifully-produced book and commend its scope."American Literature
"An exquisite orchestration of the fully lived life."Michael S. Harper, The Boston Globe
"A very fine first volume of a projected two-volume critical biography of Langston Hughes. Indeed, it is, by every measure, the best biography to date of a black literary figure....It is so well written that ordinary incidents and characters are well-meshed and, at times, almost seem to be creatively plotted....We eagerly await Rampersad's second volume of the Hughes biography. If it is as well-written and as authoritatively informative as this volume, the literary world will indeed be well served."Resources for American Literary Study