The Big Picture: Langston Hughes and William Faulkner

Celebrity authors Langston Hughes and William Faulkner had a phenomenal connection, the two being US poets in 1963 who found themselves friends and collaborators, and teaming up on seven children’s books together, from 1963…

The Big Picture: Langston Hughes and William Faulkner

Celebrity authors Langston Hughes and William Faulkner had a phenomenal connection, the two being US poets in 1963 who found themselves friends and collaborators, and teaming up on seven children’s books together, from 1963 to 1968. It was an odd partnership: Hughes, a champion of the black American, was biracial, for a white man, and Faulkner was “fully white” and “a distinct, red-scarfed, Southern white man”.

Langston Hughes and William Faulkner: a child’s-eye view Read more

Faulkner, who won the Nobel prize for literature in 1948, often would write the uplifting father and son stories with Hughes, which are so often linked to racial and gender stereotypes. Hughes would often critique these materialisms in the drawings themselves. To cite one example: his illustrations for the Winnie the Pooh series (1941-51) show a boy named Winnie, as “elderly” and “proud”.

The Great Barracks Room (1961)

Toffie Tate, Langston Hughes, 1939. Photograph: David A Winter/Time Life Pictures/Getty Image

The Great Barracks Room (1961)

The Soldier Goes to Pawnee (1942)

The Pilgrim to the Okefenokee (1943)

The Road to Scatterlight (1944)

Eagles v Merchants (1947)

Eagles v Merchants (1947)

Eagles v Merchants (1947)

“This bright, happy-clappy story,” Hughes wrote, “has a firmly tried conflict, an incipient conflict, a vague flash of danger – a story in which one promises without proof to another who has a great need that he will be found dead within two years and then buried as soon as possible.”

The big picture has become a canvas to convey the darker realities of race relations.

The good kids win! … Hattie McDaniel, left, and Ira Gershwin in the 1931 Broadway production of An American Boy. Photograph: Bertie Katz/Time Life Pictures/Getty Image

“This is the story of the child who begins the season, whose name shall be written in gold, who in a few months is destined to become a very big star!”

An American Boy (1931)

Rosalie and Me (1934)

In this beautiful story, Hathaway the Horrid Old Lady, looks after abandoned newborn Jesse “black and ginger” Blissnie. Horton and the Rabbit bring him out from the graveyard, and together they win Hathaway’s attention, sending her to bed and for Christmas.

Hathaway is only one of nine Native American American dwarfs in a legendary – and not to be mistaken for children’s books – tale by Aesop, The Fox and the Parakeet (1917). It remains popular today as an ideal reading choice for schoolchildren, and is especially relevant today, as seen on the golden hills of Wyoming where it was written.

At Twilight’s Edge (1942)

Some of Hughes’s most sensitive works for adults are showcased in this beautifully illustrated collection, which, among others, featured Hollis E Butler’s 1955 animated short He Covered Up the Bed. It also revealed some of Hughes’s earliest work, including The White Soldier (1949) and the autobiographical A Love Struck Distance (1944), which was written in under a year after the outbreak of the second world war. The Third Man (1945) and The Big Bad Fox and Other Stories (1953) made world premieres in the United States in the post-war decades.

I am not a soldier. I am not a storyteller. I am a father who is just a dog. Who is he? Read more

Hughes had always been drawn to the metaphysics of the third world; after seeing the crowds of Eastern Europeans fleeing the Nazis, he believed the same phenomena had been occurring in his country. His pictures and words, including Where Human Beings Are Heavenly, the Twilight Stories and Romance of a Wounded Child, provide moving insight into both the past and the present, particularly looking through children’s eyes.

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