The Political Plays of Langston Hughes

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Among the most influential poets of the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes is perhaps best remembered for the innovative use of jazz rhythms in his writing. While his poetry and essays received much public acclaim and scholarly attention, Hughes’ dramas are relatively unknown. Only five of the sixty-three plays Hughes scripted alone or collaboratively have been published (in 1963).

Published here, for the first time, are four of Hughes’ most poignant, poetic, and political dramas, Scottsboro Limited, Harvest (also known as Blood on the Fields), Angelo Herndon Jones, and De Organizer. Each play reflects Hughes’ remarkable professionalism as a playwright as well as his desire to dramatize the social history of the African American experience, especially in the context of the labor movements of the 1930s and their attempts to attract African American workers. Hughes himself counted prominent members of these leftist groups among his close friends and patrons; he formed a theater group with Whittaker Chambers, prompting an FBI investigation of Hughes and his writing in the 1930s. These plays, while easily read as idealistic propaganda pieces for the left, are nonetheless reflective of Hughes’ other more influential and studied works.

The first scholar to offer a systematic study of Hughes’ plays, Susan Duffy provides an informed introduction as well as a detailed analysis of each of the four plays. Duffy also establishes that De Organizer, a collaboration with noted jazz pianist and composer James P. Johnson (who also wrote its score) was indeed performed by the Labor Stage.

By making these forgotten texts available, and by presenting them within a scholarly discussion of 1930s leftist political movements, Duffy seeks to spark a renewed interest in Langston Hughes as an American playwright and political figure.  

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
This volume provides a glimpse into Harlem Renaissance poet Hughes's activities as a leftist playwright. These politically charged plays (Scottsboro, Limited; Harvest; Angelo Herndon Jones; De Organizer) deal with labor woes, union infiltration, and the influence of radical politics on minorities in the 1930s. To get a clear view of Hughes's politics, Duffy (liberal studies, California Polytechnic Inst.; The Political Left in the American Theatre of the 1930s) recommends reading this work in conjunction with Arnold Rampersad's two-volume The Life of Langston Hughes (LJ 8/86; LJ 9/15/88) he also prefaces each play with an analysis of Hughes's motivation and some insight into his life at the time of the writing. A summary explains Hughes's supposed Communist affiliation. Duffy has filled a void by bringing together these historically valuable plays and initiating focus upon this neglected area of Hughes's career. Highly recommended for all academic and research libraries.--David M. Lisa, Mercyhurst Coll. Lib., Erie, PA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
From the Publisher
“An examination of Langston Hughes’ plays provides some insights into the political theater and the racial politics of the 1930s. It will be impossible to do a serious study of Hughes without reference to this work.”—David Ball, former professor of drama at Carnegie-Mellon University 

“Hughes’ plays are rarely published, and Susan Duffy’s intellegent, exhaustive researched commentaries on each play in the book redeem it by putting Hughes’ theater in the context of the rest of his remarkable life.”Booklist

“This volume provides a glimpse into Harlem Renaissance poet Hughes’s activities as a leftest playwright. . . . Duffy has filled a void by bringing together these historically valuable plays and initiating focus upon this neglected area of Hughes’s career.”Library Journal

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780809322961
  • Publisher: Southern Illinois University Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/2000
  • Edition description: 1st Edition
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Susan Duffy is a professor in the liberal studies department at California Polytechnic State University, where she teaches courses with a focus on literature in performance. She has published four books, including American Labor on Stage: Dramatic Interpretations of the Steel and Textile Industries in the 1930s and The Political Left in the American Theatre of the 1930s: A Bibliographic Sourcebook.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Chasing the Dream 1
Hughes' Move to the Left: Scottsboro, Limited 24
Scottsboro, Limited: A One-Act Play 37
An American Documentary Play: Harvest 50
Harvest 68
Politics and Social Commentary: Angelo Herndon Jones 138
Angelo Herndon Jones: A One-Act Play of Negro Life 147
A Collaboration of Jazz, Poetry, and Blues: De Organizer 163
De Organizer: A Blues Opera in One Act 177
Conclusion: Hughes' Lost Legacy 191
Notes 205
Bibliography 215
Index 219
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