The Collected Works of Langston Hughes. Volume 16

By Mullen, Edward | Afro - Hispanic Review, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

The Collected Works of Langston Hughes. Volume 16


Mullen, Edward, Afro - Hispanic Review


The Collected Works of Langston Hughes. Volume 16. The Translations: Federico Garcia Lorca, Nicolas Guillen, and Jacques Roumain Edited with an introduction by Dellita Martin-Ogunsola. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2003, 267 pp.

The title under review forms Volume 16 in the Collected Works of Langston Hughes. This important series, which began with the publication in 2001 of the Poems: 1921-1940 with an introduction by Hughes' biographer Arnold Rampersad, is indeed a watershed event in Hughes criticism. Rightfully called the "Dean of Black Letters," Hughes was the member of the Harlem Renaissance movement whose influence was the most pervasive and sustained in American literature. In quantity (it must be remembered that Hughes was a professional writer), Hughes' production dwarfed not only that of his immediate contemporaries (Countee Cullen, Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, and Zora Neale Hurston) but also the works of figures such as Wright, Ellison, and Baldwin, all of whom achieved prominence after the Harlem Renaissance proper. A prolific and versatile writer, Hughes authored more than forty books, edited or translated fourteen more and contributed hundreds of reviews and essays to scores of anthologies, magazines and newspapers. His literary and editorial production is so vast that even his serious critics failed to agree on exactly what he published. The volumes of the Collected Works have been published with the same goals that Hughes sought throughout his career: making his books available to the people. Each book includes a chronology by Arnold Rampersad as well as an introduction by the volumes' editor. The individual volumes in the Collected Works have been organized by genre beginning with the poems and moving through all of the fields that Hughes cultivated with such richness and imagination. The volume editors are specialists both in the works of Hughes as well as in the genre in the individual volumes. Dellita Martin-Ogunsola is an accomplished translator in her own right having translated the short stories of the Costa Rican writer Quince Duncan as well as a specialist in Afro-Hispanic and African American literature. Not since the pioneering by John Matheus ("Langston Hughes as translator," Langston Hughes Black Genius: A Critical Evaluation, ed. Therman B. O'Daniel, New York: William Morrow, 1971) has anyone attempted to comment so globally on this aspect of Hughes' oeuvre.

Volume 16 reprints in their entirety three major translations by Hughes: Blood Wedding by Federico Garcia Lorca, (1938, 1994); Cuba Libre by Nicolas Guillen (1948); and Masters of the Dew by Jacques Roumain (1947). The book begins by an introduction followed by the reprinting of the texts and concludes with a set of explanatory notes. Martin-Ogunsola's introduction not only offers useful historic and biographical information about the genesis of the translations but contains a key to understanding Hughes' desire to translate in the first place: "Thus, his perennial longing for submersion into the "Big Sea" of black life-whether in the Americas, in Europe, in Africa, or in Asia-prompted him to build bridges between himself and an international circle of writers. Hughes' odyssey was a multi-layered exploration of his individual, familial, communal and ultimately global identity" (3).

The three texts included in this volume are presented in the order in which Hughes translated them rather than in the order of their publication. Thus, the book opens with Hughes' translation of Bodas de Sangre by Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936) the Andalusian poet and dramatist who was executed in Granada by a Falangist firing squad in the opening days of the Spanish Civil War. The text reprinted was discovered in 1983 by Melia Bensussen with the assistance of the executor of the Hughes estate, George H. Bass. It was staged in May 1992, some fifty years after it was first translated, as part of the New York Shakespeare festival, directed by Bensussen. …

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