May 31, 2013
My class, “Regional, National, Global,” has no special focus on children’s literature, but it does seem to come up a lot.
I think it’s because of Langston Hughes — the uncertain borders of his poetry, holding a small world in one sense, but a small world that doesn’t forget that there’s such a thing as climate, weather: “There’s always weather, weather,/ Whether we like it or don’t./ Sometimes so cold and cloudy!/ Will it soon snow, or won’t?”
And now Sarah Robbins has gone ahead and written a splendid paper on this — on Hughes’s First Book of Africa, one of the several “first books” that he did for Franklin Watts, a New York publisher dedicated to the education of young readers in jazz, in poetry, in world history.
Hughes himself enjoyed teaching. In 1949 he spent several months at the University of Chicago Lab School; his favorite student was a handicapped white boy from Arkansas, and his favorite colleague seemed to have been Bob Ericson, who owned about three hundred jazz and blues records. The two team-taught a course in jazz.
He had only one complaint: ‘Seven o’clock in the morning lower-school teaching is too much for my advanced age. Since I did not do it in my youth and was never on time for school myself as a pupil, I see no need to start straining my ego now just to improve race relations.”
It’s like him.