Left to Right: Mary Louise Patterson, Brenda Greene, David Mills. Photo-Carolyn Jenkins.
One of the most prolific and influential writers of the Harlem Renaissance era, Langston Hughes, was remembered in a program brought to life by Dr. Brenda Greene, the Executive Director of The Center for Black Literature at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York.
The co-editor of “Letters from Langston; From the Harlem Renaissance to the Red Scare and Beyond”, Dr. Mary Louise Patterson, was one of the daughters of Langston’s close friend, Louise Thompson Patterson. The collection of letters was gathered after Langston’s death from Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
The letters span almost 40 years during the middle of the twentieth century, and reveal the warm and intimate relationship they had. Patterson also discovered letters Langston wrote to her parents and to her and her siblings during their teen and young adult years.
In “Letters”, Dr. Patterson included every correspondence discovered from all sources. An independently produced black and white documentary film, “Langston as We Knew Him”, covered Langston’s life and travels during the 1930’s when he turned politically leftward in defiance of the U.S. system of racist segregation, voting rights struggles and other absurd and oppressive conditions Black people of were — and still are– subjected to.
In June 1932, Langston and other artists and activists of that era traveled to Russia to make a film about the realities of American Negro life in the U.S. The film was never produced. It is thought that one reason was the Russian government did not want to offend the U.S. during this period, since they were seeking diplomatic recognition. We see Langston as he travels through Soviet Central Asia, recording and observing the land he hoped would fulfill the promise of full equality for Black people.
The second half of the program featured a performance by author and poet David Mills. Mr. Mill’s performance was mesmerizing. Without costumes or makeup, like a flick of a switch, he was able to impersonate numerous characters created by Langston by a change in body language and voice. He did a fantastic dramatization of the mother in “Mother to Son.” Other Langston poems dramatized was “I, Too, Sing America” and “I’ve Known Rivers.” David is the author of a collection of poetry. One, “The Sudden Country” was a book prize finalist.
A spirited Q-&-A with Mary Louise Patterson and David Mills followed, along with a book signing by both authors. Credit for this enlightening evening of poetry and theatre is due to Dr. Brenda Green, Executive Director of The Center for Black Literature.
The Center’s mission is to expand, broaden, and enrich the public’s knowledge and aesthetic appreciation of the value of Black literature through programs that build an audience for the reading, discussion, and critical analysis of contemporary Black Literature and that serve as a forum for the research and study of Black Literature.
High on your to-do list should be this season’s National Black Writer’s Conference, March 25th, 10 am to 6:30 pm.
For more information about The Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College, CUNY, including the John Oliver Killens Reading Series, call 718-804-8883, email: writers@MEC.CUNY.EDU. Visit www.centerfor blackliterature.org