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1. Please read this short lecture below including several resources, Langston Hu

by | Apr 26, 2022 | Gender studies

 

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1. Please read this short lecture below including several resources, Langston Hughes’s poem, and his Presentation at UCLA in 1967.
(A note on language)
In this assignment, you will be encountering our artists using the term “Negro.” In the early 20th Century, this was the term that was claimed within our community of the Harlem Renaissance. It was a term of empowerment. It was a term of respect. Of course, language evolves – it is in the 1960’s that we get Black as part of the Black Panthers and the Black Power Movement. And then later, still, African American or people of African Descent. Black and African American are both respectful and still in use today. However, since 2020 in particular and with the progressive work of Black Lives Matter, Black is now being used once again as more political. Always capitalized! Negro is not. But at the time that we are studying, Negro was the respected term and the term our artists used for themselves.
(Brief History of the Harlem Renaissance)
The Harlem Renaissance lasted between 1919 – 1935 and came about, in large part, because of the Great Migration of Black people from the South. Historically, if you think about it, the Harlem Renaissance began only 54 years after the ratification of the 13th Amendment which abolished slavery. In some ways, 54 years seems like a long time; however, in reality, it is quite a short period. Even if you have not really heard about the Harlem Renaissance and all of the outpouring of amazing writing, visual arts, and music, you have probably heard of the most iconic person who was part of the Renaissance: the poet Langston Hughes.
(It Was A Bi Old Time!)
With this huge migration of artistic and young and idealistic Black folx, there was a deep sense of doing things differently – of being radical and subversive. Not only were the artists deeply interested in racial politics and explorations of ancient African culture brought into the present day with a contemporary spin, many of the artists were pushing other boundaries and one of the ways this was exemplified the most was the sheer number of writers, artists, and musicians who were queer. the vast majority of the more radical artists during this time really did embrace bisexuality: writer Nella Larsen, artist and writer Richard Bruce Nugent, and Blues icons Gladys Bentley and Lucille Bogan. Remember, though, that definitions in the early part of the 20th Century were fluid. In the piece you will read by Richard Bruce Nugent, he clearly explores bisexuality as well as interracial sexual relations in the dream sequence he is having as well as in some of his art – you will see this in the woodcut we will be studying. Historically, many of these artists get claimed as solely gay or solely lesbian. I would like to set the record “straight” (or bi) so to speak. Actually, these days, I think one could make the argument that many of these artists were pansexual – they certainly were polyamorous as many of the rent parties evolved into full scale orgies. But it was this sex positive embracing of all that life had to offer young Black artists in Harlem that I most want to convey. And, yes, sex positive includes at least one of our artists who is being looked at more and more as asexual (Ace) and queer – the late, great Langston Hughes.
(Isaac Julien’s Looking For Langston)
Although we are not going to watch this gorgeous example of “The New Queer Cinema” from the 1990’s, the Black British filmmaker, Isaac Julien, discussed some of his difficulties when he first set out to create a film about Black gay men in the Harlem Renaissance – and specifically – he wanted to focus on Langston Hughes. As Julien says in an interview with radical Black queer poet Essex Hemphill (you will read his poetry later in this class), “I wanted to talk about the role of the black artist in relationship to the black community and specifically the role of the black gay artist. Those were the kinds of arenas I wanted to dwell in, and Langston Hughes was the perfect subject. There seemed to be so much controversy around him as a person in relationship to his sexual identity” (Brother to Brother edited by Essex Hemphill 175). As Julien found out quickly, the Estate of Langston Hughes (mostly comprised of his family) did not want anything queer associated at all with this great and lasting voice of the Harlem Renaissance. In fact, there is often still a cone of silence around Langston Hughes. You will be reading an article in this module that explores Langston Hughes as a gay asexual icon.
(Excellent sources on the LGBTQI2+Harlem Renaissance)
1. FIRE!! Devoted To Younger Negro Artists (1926)


2. The New York City LGBT Historic Sites Project

The Harlem Renaissance


(Langston Hughes “Café: 3 a.m.”)
This poem is one that theorists point to as symbolic of Hughes’s queer sensibility. Although he doesn’t discuss being queer in this poem, he certainly defends people who are.
Café: 3 a.m.
Detectives from the vice squad
with weary sadistic eyes
spotting fairies.
Degenerates,
some folks say.
But God, Nature,
or somebody
made them that way.
Police lady or Lesbian
over there?
Where?
(Langston Hughes Presentation at UCLA in 1967)
Here, you will find an archival recording of Langston Hughes giving a talk at UCLA in 1967.
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Px5hwNCs9ss)
As you listen to Hughes, consider what has changed for Black people in the U.S. since 1967; consider what has remained the same; consider what has gotten worse. The video is closed captioned.
(Article Exploring Langston Hughes as an Ace Gay Icon)
Please explore this essay that considers Langston Hughes as gay and as asexual. There are lots of excellent arguments out there about Hughes certainly having romantic feelings toward men. Most of his dear friends during the Harlem Renaissance were LGBT people. The more I research Hughes, the more I think there is an excellent argument for his being gay and ace (asexual). https://www.makingqueerhistory.com/articles/2016/12/20/langston-hughes-the-poet
Langston Hughes’s gorgeous poem “Theme For English B” and his iconic “Dream Deferred” poems are some of the most famous American poems of the twentieth century. Langston Hughes and his work never fell out of obscurity – even long after the voices of the Harlem Renaissance faded into the background. In a docudrama about the Harlem Renaissance, Brother to Brother, the semi-biographical character of Richard Bruce Nugent makes the point that Langston had to carry the world on his shoulders. By being the most famous and the most enduring artist of the Harlem Renaissance, it was as though he had to carry the entire movement into history. He had to be the perfect example for the entire race. That is a lot of weight for one person’s shoulders.
2. Think about the pressures Hughes may have felt being the token “Negro Artist” to represent a diverse and vibrant time. Hughes may not have been “out” like Bogan, Bentley, or Nugent – yet you have “Café: 3 a.m.” and you have these theories of his being gay and asexual.
Consider both “Café 3 a.m.” and the talk he gave at UCLA in 1967 and answer the following questions.
1) What makes Hughes’s work queer?
2) What are your thoughts about his talk at UCLA in 1967?
What did you learn? What has changed for Black people in the U.S.?
What remains the same?
What has gotten worse?
3) What are your thoughts about the essay discussing Hughes as an asexual gay icon?
4) What are your other questions you might have about Langston Hughes?

 

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