cover image Short Stories of Langston Hughes

Short Stories of Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes. Hill & Wang, $25 (299pp) ISBN 978-0-8090-8658-0

This collection of 47 stories, many previously out-of-print, is a welcome and overdue addition that clearly shows the evolution of Hughes's literary sensibility and craft. Harper, a Spelman College professor, has assembled these stories in order of their publication and has included an appendix of early work, some of which are from Hughes's high-school literary magazine. Largely autobiographical, and set in locations around the world (but most frequently in this country), many of these stories revolve around the same themes: the ultimately demeaning patronage of whites; the challenges of realizing dreams in a world of limited opportunity; and the timeless tensions between the sexes. By turns poignant and indignant, these stories achieve power by revealing small moments that betray more universal truths. In ""Slave on the Block,"" a dilettante white painter doesn't understand the defiance of her model, posing as a slave for sale, who leaves abruptly before the work is complete. ""Professor"" describes the hidden humiliation of a black educator whose imagination sustains him as he endures an evening with wealthy white patrons from whom he is seeking funds for his small college. Stories inspired by Hughes's year aboard a freighter that plied the coast of West Africa are included, as are tales from his most famous collection, The Ways of White Folk. Princeton professor Arnold Rampersand's cogent introduction places the work in context. This is a thoughtfully assembled collection, in which readers can see Hughes mature, moving from idealism and broad sentiment toward a canny, worldly wisdom. (Aug.)