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Letters from Langston

From the Harlem Renaissance to the Red Scare and Beyond

Langston Hughes (Author), Evelyn Louise Crawford (Editor), MaryLouise Patterson (Editor), Robin D.G. Kelley (Foreword)


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Langston Hughes, one of America's greatest writers, was an innovator of jazz poetry and a leader of the Harlem Renaissance whose poems and plays resonate widely today. Accessible, personal, and inspirational, Hughes’s poems portray the African American community in struggle in the context of a turbulent modern United States and a rising black freedom movement. This indispensable volume of letters between Hughes and four leftist confidants sheds vivid light on his life and politics.

Letters from Langston begins in 1930 and ends shortly before his death in 1967, providing a window into a unique, self-created world where Hughes lived at ease. This distinctive volume collects the stories of Hughes and his friends in an era of uncertainty and reveals their visions of an idealized world—one without hunger, war, racism, and class oppression.
Foreword by Robin D. G. Kelley

Introduction: The Poet, the Crawfords, and the Pattersons


1 • Wither White Philanthropy—Thank You and God for “The Weary Blues”: October 1930–January 1932
2 • Moscow Bound in Black and White: March 1932–February 1933
3 • Horror in Scottsboro, Alabama, and War in Spain: May 1933–November 1937
4 • A People’s Theatre in Harlem and Black Anti-Fascism on the Rise: January 1938–December 1939


5 • Early Political Repression: January 1940– November 1941
6 • World War II and Black Radical Organizing: June 1942–July 1944
7 • Ebb and Flow—To Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Back: July 1946– November 1949


8 • McCarthyism at Home, Independence Movements Abroad: July 1950–December 1959
9 • Civil Rights, Black Arts, and the People’s Poet: February 1961–August 1966

Glossary Personae
Evelyn Louise Crawford, a retired arts administrator and consultant, and MaryLouise Patterson, a pediatrician in clinical practice, are the daughters of Langston Hughes’s cherished friends Evelyn Graves Crawford, Matt N. Crawford, Louise Thompson Patterson, and William L. Patterson. Hughes was a frequent guest in the homes of the two families and was like an uncle to to Evelyn Louise and MaryLouise.
"The letters are held together by well-researched notes on black intellectuals' battles for racial and economic justice, and they paint a vivid picture of the poet's exuberant mind... Letters from Langston gives an excellet account of the racial and political challenges faced by this extraordinary writer."—Rosemary Booth The Gay & Lesbian Review
"This collection is invaluable. It's Hughes unguarded and off the record, and it's family life on the Left—quietly committed and resilient."—David Levering Lewis, New York University, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of W. E. B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 1868–1919, and W. E. B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century, 1919–1963

"Despite its snappy main title, this book is about much more than the celebrated Langston Hughes. The letters published here, mainly from five lively, often embattled friends writing to one another, document the profoundly human but politically courageous spirit of a small group of loving people, all African American, who stood up, with varying degrees of radicalism and at substantial personal risk to themselves, against racism, imperialism, and the excesses of capitalism during the most dangerous decades of the twentieth century. With excellent footnotes and other commentary, their book deserves our deepest respect and admiration."—Arnold Rampersad, Stanford University, author of The Life of Langston Hughes and coeditor of the Selected Letters of Langston Hughes

"Letters from Langston is the rare collection that sets high politics in conversation with everyday life. Robin D. G. Kelley offers a lively foreword that contextualizes mid-century black radical life as an expansive endeavor blending the arts and politics. Evelyn Louise Crawford and MaryLouise Patterson look back on growing up in black Communist families in telling ways that illustrate the possibilities and perils of radical lives. Usually funny, often wise, and always lovable, Langston Hughes leaps off these pages and brings us into his world. A must-read for anyone interested in the twentieth-century Left, the Harlem Renaissance, or how to live fully when life ain't been no crystal stair."—Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, Yale University, coauthor of These United States: A Nation in the Making, 1890–2015

"Letters from Langston is a great gift to those interested in African American literature and intellectual and political history. Not only does it give us new insights into the continuing radicalism of a major U.S. writer, Langston Hughes, but it also illuminates the careers and contributions of four important black activists and intellectuals, Louise and William Patterson and Matt and Evelyn Crawford. It provides a unique view into the trajectory of black political and cultural radicalism from the Harlem Renaissance to Black Power and Black Art, providing a personal window into the contradictions, continuities, and lived texture of those historical moments."—James Smethurst, Mass Amherst, author of The African American Roots of Modernism: From Reconstruction to the Harlem Renaissance

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