"ESPECIALLY FOR STELLA HOLT, WITH THANKS FOR SO MANY FINE PLAYS": A WONDERFUL PRESENTATION/ASSOCIATION FIRST EDITION OF SWEET FLYPAPER OF LIFE, INSCRIBED IN THE YEAR OF PUBLICATION BY LANGSTON HUGHES TO HIS CLOSE FRIEND, RENOWNED THEATRICAL PRODUCER STELLA HOLT
(DECARAVA, Roy) HUGHES, Langston. The Sweet Flypaper of Life. Photographs by Roy DeCarava. Story by Langston Hughes. New York: Simon and Schuster, (1955). Small octavo (4-3/4 by 7-1/8 inches), original photographic and textual wrappers. Housed in a custom clamshell box. $4900.
First edition of this landmark collaboration between Hughes and DeCarava, featuring Hughes' text and 141 photogravures by DeCarava, the preferred softcover edition, a distinctive presentation/association copy boldly inscribed on the verso of the front wrapper by Hughes to the influential producer who produced one of his most successful Off-Broadway plays and was "one of the first producers to use integrated casts" (New York Times). In Hughes' inscription, dated the year of publication, he writes: "Especially for Stella Holt, with thanks for so many fine plays, Sincerely, Langston Hughes, New York, Nov. 30, 1955."
Hughes and DeCarava's award-winning book is "one of the most successful collaborations between a great writer and a great photographer ever published" (Roth, 138). This unique copy is inscribed by Hughes to his close friend, the influential theatrical producer Stella Holt, who was "one of the first producers to use integrated casts" (New York Times). Legally blind, the white producer was the longtime director of New York's Greenwich Mews Theatre. In her 1965 production of Hughes' Prodigal Son, Holt and Hughes brought in African American playwright Vinnette Carroll as director. "Holt turned Hughes' gospel drama into 'a swinging dance pantomime,' as he marveled, 'a novel concoction I never dreamed of—but a delightful one'… 'Stella was devoted to Langston,' Vinnette Carroll recalled'" (Rampersad, Life of Langston Hughes II:391-2). Holt was also behind the successful 1957 Broadway production of Hughes' Simply Heavenly. She died three months after Hughes in 1967.
"An important step forward" in the history of photobooks, Sweet Flypaper of Life proved especially significant in its "design, featuring a pacy, cinematic style" (Parr & Badger II:242). Guggenheim Award-winner Roy DeCarava is considered "the spiritual 'father' of much contemporary African American photography" (New York Times). Hughes, already "acknowledged as the most influential black writer of his generation, and as one of the greatest American poets of all time, here composed a fictional story to accompany DeCarava's images, creating a lyrical tale about imaginary characters to go with photographs of real people" (Roth, 138). Preferred first softcover edition with text beginning on front wrapper, text block on page 3; published the same year as the first cloth edition. "First Printing" stated on copyright page. Open Book, 160. Bruccoli & Clark 3, 164.
Text and images fine, light soiling and edge-wear to wrappers. A very memorable presentation/association copy.