“The Negro Speaks of Rivers” at 100
Langston Hughes Review
Guest Editor: Shane Graham
Expected Publication: (May) 2021
In June 1921, Crisis published Langston Hughes’ first adult poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” In many ways it contained the blueprint for the poet’s entire subsequent career, and established many of his key themes: black pride and self-assertion; the validation of Africa as spiritual force and ancestral homeland; black identity conceived as fluidly transnational and as formed by layers of history. The poem, and the body of work to follow it, were also enormously influential, not just to writers, but to visual artists, musicians, and performers across all media.
On the centenary of the poem’s publication, this special issue of Langston Hughes Review will take “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” as a focal point through which to assess Hughes’ legacy over the last hundred years, and evaluate the contemporary significance of his work as it enters its second century. Submissions to this issue need not focus exclusively on this single poem, but “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” should in some way serve as a launch pad or backdrop for larger considerations of Hughes’ work, influence, and legacy.
Possible topics and questions include but are not limited to:
- How is “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” and Hughes’ larger body of work, relevant in 2021 and beyond to black art and black lives, or to the United States, or to world literature and culture?
- Feminist and/or Queer readings of “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and Hughes’ larger body of work?
- How do the motifs, themes, and images in “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” echo, recur, and evolve throughout Hughes’ career as a poet, playwright, and fiction writer?
- Translations of “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and other poems by Hughes into French, Spanish, German, Swedish, and/or other languages.
- The poem’s afterlives, e.g., Hughes’ writing a film script based on it for the American Film Center and the Rosenwald Fund in 1944; musical settings by Margaret Bonds and Sarah Stansil in 1942, and by Howard Swanson in 1949 (the latter sung by Marian Anderson at Carnegie Hall in 1950).
- Artworks in other media inspired by the poem and the poet, e.g., Houston Conwill’s Rivers at the Schomburg Center, and/or Willie Birch’s Harlem Timeline mosaic in the 135th Street subway station of the 2/3 line in Harlem.
- In what ways has black music exemplified themes or aesthetics in Langston Hughes' poem "The Negro Speaks of Rivers"?
- Other writers’ riffs on the poem, e.g., Paule Marshall’s organizing her memoir Triangular Road around the chapter titles “I’ve known Rivers”; “I’ve known Seas”; “I’ve Known Oceans.”
Contributors are invited to send CVs and abstracts of 250-400 words to the guest editor, Shane Graham (firstname.lastname@example.org) and the editor, Tony Bolden (email@example.com) by January 31, 2020. Contributors whose abstracts are selected for peer review will be asked to submit their essays of between 5000-7000 words by July 1, 2020.
The Langston Hughes Review
African and African American Studies Department
University of Kansas
Department of English
Utah State University