The Worlds of Langston Hughes

The Worlds of Langston Hughes: Modernism and Translation in the Americas

Vera M. Kutzinski
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    The Worlds of Langston Hughes
    Book Description:

    The poet Langston Hughes was a tireless world traveler and a prolific translator, editor, and marketer. Translations of his own writings traveled even more widely than he did, earning him adulation throughout Europe, Asia, and especially the Americas. In The Worlds of Langston Hughes, Vera Kutzinski contends that, for writers who are part of the African diaspora, translation is more than just a literary practice: it is a fact of life and a way of thinking. Focusing on Hughes's autobiographies, translations of his poetry, his own translations, and the political lyrics that brought him to the attention of the infamous McCarthy Committee, she shows that translating and being translated-and often mistranslated-are as vital to Hughes's own poetics as they are to understanding the historical network of cultural relations known as literary modernism.

    As Kutzinski maps the trajectory of Hughes's writings across Europe and the Americas, we see the remarkable extent to which the translations of his poetry were in conversation with the work of other modernist writers. Kutzinski spotlights cities whose role as meeting places for modernists from all over the world has yet to be fully explored: Madrid, Havana, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, and of course Harlem. The result is a fresh look at Hughes, not as a solitary author who wrote in a single language, but as an international figure at the heart of a global intellectual and artistic formation.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6625-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    Vera M. Kutzinski
    (pp. xi-xv)
    (pp. xvi-xvi)
  6. INTRODUCTION: In Others’ Words: Translation and Survival
    (pp. 1-14)

    Langston Hughes is inextricably woven into the fabric of contemporary culture. Most people in the Americas and in Europe recognize his name. Maybe they have read a poem or two in an anthology. In the United States of America, more than half a century after his death in 1967, Hughes has a firm hold on the popular imagination, so much so that even the occasional politician resorts to lines from his poems. His handsome face adorns books, greeting cards, and a commemorative thirty-four-cent postage stamp. On satellite radio’s Real Jazz station, we can listen to Gary Bartz’s version of “I’ve...

  7. CHAPTER ONE Nomad Heart: Heterolingual Autobiography
    (pp. 15-55)

    How does a person such as Langston Hughes, who lived in and between worlds, write an autobiography in the first place? How does one write a self when that self is perpetually displaced, put at risk, and not just by actual travel? Autobiography is an exceedingly vexed literary genre with ill-defined boundaries that tends to raise a host of expectations about what subjectivity is and how it is to be represented. Autobiographies that stray into fiction by blurring the line between imagined and lived experience create problems for most readers. These days, they are readily deemed fraudulent and censored publicly....

  8. CHAPTER TWO Southern Exposures: Hughes in Spanish
    (pp. 56-85)

    One need not to subscribe to Walter Benjamin’s view of original and translation as so many shards of a greater language to imagine some semantic overlap between the Spanish noun negro and its English counterparts.¹ Such overlap has invited much theoretical speculation on kinship relations among the cultural formations of the African diaspora in the Americas. But can a “spic” really be a “Negro,” even a “nigger,” and vice versa? Is there, for instance, such a thing as a black Cuban?² Nicolás Guillén, who is often credited with having started “a movement known as Afro-Cuban poetry,” struck a different note...

  9. CHAPTER THREE Buenos Aires Blues: Modernism in the Creole City
    (pp. 86-131)

    In 1938, after having spent several months in Valencia and Madrid as a correspondent for the Baltimore Afro-American, Hughes, along with most of the other “internationals,” decided to leave the war-torn capital. The city had been under siege since November of 1936, and provisions and ammunition were running low. In I Wonder As I Wander, Hughes recounts how, in “an alcoholic fog,” he hastily stuffed his bags and pockets full of books, manuscripts, banderillas, shrapnel, and other souvenirs. A wine bottle from the farewell party Hemingway and others had given for him still dangling from his neck, the inebriated Hughes...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR Havana Vernaculars: The Cuba Libre Project
    (pp. 132-183)

    After Spain, Nicolás Guillén stuck with Hughes in more ways than one. In December of 1948 the Ward Ritchie Press of Los Angeles released Cuba Libre: Poems by Nicolás Guillén in a limited edition of 250 copies. This magnificently produced book consisted of fifty poems in translations by Langston Hughes and Ben Frederic Carruthers; it was the first book-length edition of Guillén’s poetry in English.¹ The story of how Cuba Libre evolved over the course of almost two decades is a key chapter in the history of hemispheric cultural relations, testifying to the continued exchanges between Hispanic Caribbean and USAmerican...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE Back in the USSA: Joe McCarthy’s Mistranslations
    (pp. 184-220)

    Near the end of The Big Sea, Langston Hughes recounts how his early political verse “Advertisement for the Waldorf Astoria” earned him the thinly veiled scorn of his patron: “It’s not you. . . . It’s a powerful poem! But it’s not you,” Charlotte Osgood Mason sighed, concluding that her New Negro protégé “had written nothing beautiful” since the completion of his novel, Not Without Laughter (1930) (BS, 323, 325). Shortly after her rebuke, the gap between what “Godmother”—as Zora Neale Hurston called her with a mixture of ambivalence and affection—wanted and what Hughes felt he could deliver...

  12. Afterword: America/América/Americas
    (pp. 221-240)

    I take this afterword as an occasion to reflect on the major assumptions that underlie my book. Doing so also leads me to address some of the theoretical and practical implications of what I have proposed about heterolingual literature, modernism, and translation in the context of perhaps the most challenging and exasperating of all false cognates: “America” and América—challenging because alternatives in English seem needlessly cumbersome, exasperating because there is so little awareness that there is a difference and that it matters.

    This book rests on two fundamental beliefs. The first is that literature matters to life; it is...

  13. Appendix
    (pp. 241-256)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 257-310)
    (pp. 311-338)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 339-358)