By V, Robin
Black Issues in Higher Education , Vol. 19, No. 1
More than 500 scholars, artists, educators, entertainers and activists from across the nation and around the globe gathered at the University of Kansas in Lawrence earlier this month to remember the art, life and legacy of Langston Hughes (1902-1967).
The four-day, international and intergenerational symposium, sponsored by the University of Kansas and the Langston Hughes Society, featured a variety of panel discussions and performances celebrating Hughes' 100th birthday and the vast influence of his prolific repertoire of poems, novels, plays, autobiographies, essays, translations, short stories and more.
In many of the sessions, Hughes was remembered as "the people's poet," committed to the "common people" and dedicated to making sure the voices of the African American masses were heard. Several of the symposium participants knew Hughes personally and recalled his love of life and literature.
Author Paule Marshall reminisced about the three weeks she spent with Hughes on a European book tour in the early 1960s. As a young writer, just having published her first novel, Brown Girl, Brownstones, Marshall recalled the excitement and gratitude she felt when she received a letter asking her to join Hughes on the tour. The tour marked the beginning of a rich friendship between the two writers, with Marshall being forever indebted to Hughes' guidance and support.
Noted author and activist Amiri Baraka also recalled his personal knowledge of Hughes' commitment to young writers. After Baraka (then using the name LeRoi Jones) published his first poem, he received a postcard from Hughes in the veteran writer's "signature green ink," welcoming him into the community of African American literary voices.
In the spirit of Hughes, the symposium reached outside the university's walls and into the Lawrence community, where Hughes spent much of his childhood living with his grandmother, Mary Langston. Several events were free and open to the public, including a pre-symposium unveiling of the Langston Hughes U.S. postage stamp and reading by author Alice Walker, a dramatic performance by actor Danny Glover, and poetry readings, featuring Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Ishmael Reed and a number of other artists.
A half-day teaching workshop led by Hughes scholars Dr. Donna Akiba Sullivan Harper, professor of English at Spelman College, and Dr. …