Montage of a Dream Deferred: Projecting Langston Hughes's Vision During Covid-19: A Special Issue of The Langston Hughes Review
Recently, in an epic #Verzuz battle organized by producer Swizz Beatz and rapper-producer Timbaland, the Grammy-Award winning singers Erykah Badu and Jill Scott appeared on Instagram live. Therein Scott invoked Langston Hughes as an inspirational artist, pointing to the poet’s continued popularity in the twenty-first century, especially during #Covid19. For countless African Americans, the death tolls from the virus, inadequate health care, unemployment, and white supremacist bigotry epitomize Hughes’s notion of the dream deferred. Video footage released May 26, 2020, showed officer Derek Chauvin of the Minneapolis Police Department kneeling on Floyd’s neck for at least seven minutes in broad daylight. Floyd died afterward. CNN reports: “By the end of the video, he is seen motionless, with his eyes shut, lying on the pavement.” Floyd’s horrific death occurred only a few weeks after video footage revealed two white men, Gregory and Travis McMichael, killing Ahmaud Arbery in broad daylight also. In yet another incident two months ago, officers of the Louisville Police Department killed Breonna Taylor, a twenty-six year-old black woman, after bursting into her home while she was sleeping in bed. As Hughes himself might argue, these events exemplify real-life versions of “Nightmare Boogie,” which appears in his book-length poem, Montage of a Dream Deferred (1951). Published nearly seventy years ago, Hughes’s groundbreaking work continues to speak to our conditions during the crisis of Covid-19. Recently, Elliot Cosgrove, a rabbi at Manhattan’s Park Avenue Synagogue, quoted the opening line from “Harlem” in his article on students’ disappointments about cancelled job offers and graduation ceremonies. He asked: “What happens to a dream deferred?”
How, then, do we answer the profound question that Hughes posed in 1951? What is the meaning of the “dream deferred” for America in 2020? This special issue of The Langston Hughes Review examines his writings and vision in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic. Possible topics and questions include but are certainly not limited to:
- Foregrounding Hughes’s question as a point of departure, what can we learn by placing Hughes in conversation with subsequent and/or contemporary black activists and writers, film and media professionals, visual and recording artists?
- In what ways do the poems in Montage of a Dream Deferred engage with current crises in American society?
- What are some of Hughes’s writings that illuminate extant fault lines of racial, gendered, classist, and/or sexual politics in American society?
- Considering the international nature of the virus, as well as Hughes’s commitment to marginalized peoples globally, especially African Diasporic people, how do Hughes’s writings correlate with (a) economic, political, and/or health-related problems outside the US, and with (b) international writers’ representations of such problems?
- Since Hughes presaged his dream-motif in his collection of children’s poems, The Dream Keepers (1932), how does contemporary black children’s literature interface with Hughes’s works?
- According to Hughes, “the Blues are today songs, here and now, broke and broken-hearted, when you’re troubled in mind and don’t know what to do, and nobody cares.” Are there artists who exemplify Hughes’s statement during Covid-19? How have events like #Verzuz and/or DJs, including D-Nice, Questlove, DJ Kiss, and others, helped countless viewers to temporarily forestall or ameliorate the emotional and psychological trauma of the pandemic while (a) showcasing the aesthetics of deejaying and (b) foregrounding the values of Blacklove and resilience in relation to the groove?
- How have subsequent writers such as Lorraine Hansberry, who sampled Hughes’s “Harlem” (i.e., “like a raisin in the sun?”), or contemporary artists like novelists Tayari A. Jones, Mitchell S. Jackson, Jesmyn Ward, and Paul Beatty, or poets Evie Shockley, Randall Horton, jessica Care moore, Kevin Young, Duriel E. Harris, Tongo Eisen-Martin, Krista Franklin, Reginald Dwayne Betts, Eve Ewing, C. S. Giscombe, Terrance Hayes, Brenda Marie Osbey, Everett Hoagland, Nikky Finney, Tracie Morris, Harmony Holiday, or others extended Hughes’s legacy?
- In what sense might The Tradition, penned by the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Jericho Brown, evoke the “broke and broken-hearted” heartaches that many black folks experience today?
- And how do playwrights such as Lynn Nottage elaborate on Hughes’s dream-motif in her Pulitzer-Prize winning play Sweat?
We want to fast-track this urgent project. In the spirit of Langston Hughes, we invite both scholarly and artistic contributions. Experimental works are also welcome. Artists should contact the editor, Tony Bolden (firstname.lastname@example.org), as soon as possible. Scholars who wish to submit peer-review articles are invited to send CVs and abstracts of 250-400 words to Bolden by July 15, 2020. Contributors whose abstracts are selected for peer review will be asked to submit articles by February 1, 2021.