Langston Hughes: Poems, Photos, and Notebooks from Turkestan

Langston Hughes, edited by Zohra Saed. CUNY/Lost & Found, $8 trade paper (60p) ISBN 978-0-9888945-6-3
In 1932, Langston Hughes visited Leningrad to help make a Soviet film about race in America; from there he asked to visit Central Asia, evading his Soviet minders to "make his own path" through the old towns and new literary circles of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The travels have long been known, as has Hughes's book about them, A Negro Looks at Soviet Central Asia, published in Moscow in 1935. But Hughes's journals and the Uzbek poems about his visit have never been published until now. Saed provides an informative foreword explaining literary politics in Soviet Central Asia under Stalin, and a moving afterword about her family's flight from Uzbekistan. Hughes's clipped notes on his travels reveal his views of "minority" life in non-Russian Soviet states, and though he was determined to meet writers and find things out for himself, he did not always see past the Communist Party line: "So rapidly are Uzbeks and Russians mixing," he wrote in Tashkent, "that in 15 years, one probably can't tell who is who." The journals also show—with Saed's help—the region's complicated language politics. Hughes's journey itself may be news to non-scholarly readers, while those who know the story can still learn much from Saed's editorial work. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 11/02/2015
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