-- Audre Lorde, poet
"But there are certain very practical things American Negro writers can do. And must do. There's a song that says, "the time ain't long." That song is right. Something has got to change in America—and change soon. We must help that change to come.”
--Langston Hughes, writer
Listen up. The daddy wants to ask you something: What type of writing do you trust the most?
The daddy wants to say straight-up that the writing he trusts most is poetry. Why? Because, above all else, the poet seeks to write honestly, to discover truths from self, from others, from community, from the world. But a funny thing about truth—a lot of people don’t want to hear it. “There are things more painful than truth,” a wise man once said. “But I can’t think of any.” So writing truth can be a harrowing affair.
Nonetheless, the poet, like a hungry, ragged child rummaging through piles of garbage for food on the outskirts of town, the poet digs through mountains of words and concepts for a morsel of truth. The ultimate miner, a John Henry with pen, the poet plunges the depth of his or her soul to bring up rough-edged, valuable but often bitter-sweet rocks of truth, that essence of reality. Then the poet follows the find, wherever it leads, whomever it hurts.
When do people hate the truth the most? When it’s communicated simply; when it comes to them raw and unvarnished. When the great poet Langston Hughes’ published “Fine Clothes of the Jew,” it received rave reviews from white critics but was immediately attacked by the black press. The Pittsburgh Courier’s headline said, “LANGSTON HUGHES’ BOOK OF TRASH.” The Amsterdam News said that, with this book, Hughes had become a “SEWER DWELLER.” But, undeterred, Hughes continued to write honestly; and, where he felt appropriate, in black vernacular. And his writing in black vernacular gave an even greater authenticity and ring of truth to his poetry.
One painful truth that Hughes told was that black
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
Like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
Like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
Not only did Hughes write honestly and in black vernacular, he made it clear to the black press and the world that he would continue to do so. In "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain," which appeared in The Nation magazine in 1926, Hughes proclaimed his independence from the black press and stated his determination to speak the truth no matter what others thought:
“The younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad, If they are not, it doesn’t matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly, too. The tom-tom cries, and the tom-tom laughs. If colored people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure doesn’t matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain free within ourselves.”
Take that, Pittsburgh Courier.
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