Call for Papers for the Langston Hughes Society Panel at SAMLA

Christopher Varlack Discussion
Call for Papers
June 2, 2017
United States
Subject Fields: 
African American History / Studies, American History / Studies, Black History / Studies, Ethnic History / Studies, Literature

Transgressing Artistic Borders: The High/Low Portrayal of the African-American Experience in the Work of Langston Hughes and His Contemporaries

In his 1999 text Authentic Blackness: The Folk in the New Negro Renaissance, J. Martin Favor asserts that “[b]y privileging certain African American identities and voices over others, the critic of African American literature often restricts too severely his or her scope of intellectual inquiry into the construction of racial identity” (3). To some extent, this very notion proves the central debate of the Harlem Renaissance era, as the 1920s saw an influx in publications tracing the black aesthetic and probing the question of how the African-American community should be best depicted in black art. From the infamous questionnaire published by W.E.B. Du Bois in the Crisis to Langston Hughes’ “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” of the same year, these authors were engaged in critical conversations about the new direction of the African-American literary tradition at a time when the Negro was most in vogue.

In responding to the SAMLA 89 conference theme of “High/Low Art: Borders and Boundaries in Popular Culture,” the Langston Hughes Society asks for potential participants to consider how Langston Hughes as well as his contemporaries defined and transgressed the borders between high and low art in their literary texts. For instance, how might Hughes’ “Your Simple Minded Friend,” as Arna Bontemps notes in a 1919 letter, serve “as a device for treating topics which would otherwise seem high-flown or academic”—“a way of commenting on current events and pronouncements”? How might the portrait of black middle class life in Fauset’s novel There is Confusion offer a very different image than the lives of the common folk depicted in McKay’s Home to Harlem and Hughes’ Not Without Laughter? Consider texts such as Hughes’ Montage of a Dream Deferred and its representations of class and the African-American racial consciousness in the post-World War II era where art and social action would often converge. Consider also the blues poems that embodied the emotional tenor of black life in the twentieth century but for which Hughes was once condemned when reading at a colored church in Atlantic City shortly after the publication of The Weary Blues. Proposals examining the work of Langston Hughes specifically (or intersections with Hughes) are especially welcome.

For consideration, please submit abstracts of approximately 250 to 300 words to Dr. Wallis Baxter III as an E-mail attachment at The deadline for submissions is June 2, 2017. Note that accepted presenters must be members of SAMLA and the LHS by June 30, 2017 in order to participate. SAMLA 89 will be held at the Westin Peachtree Plaza in Atlanta, GA, from November 3-5, 2017.

Contact Info: 

Dr. Wallis Baxter III
President, Langston Hughes Society