"I SPEAK IN THE NAME OF THE BLACK MILLIONS": FIRST EDITION OF A NEW SONG, 1938, LANGSTON HUGHES' CONTROVERSIAL VOLUME OF 17 POEMS
HUGHES, Langston. A New Song. New York: International Workers Order, 1938. Slim octavo, original pictorial blue and white wrappers, staple bound as issued; pp. (1-6), 7-31 (1). $750.
First edition of Hughes' powerful 1938 collection of long-suppressed poems, featuring 17 poems together in print for the first time, including demands for justice for the Scottsboro Boys and Angelo Herndon, most virtually banned from his body of work until inclusion in Collected Poems (1994), in original wrappers.
"Hughes' monumental achievements… his insistence on the value of African American culture resulted in an original 20th-century voice whose poetic innovations expanded the possibilities for all of American literature." In the 1930s, as the nation buckled under the Great Depression, "Hughes' social consciousness entered his writing more overtly… he also more directly identified himself with radical left-wing causes and publications" (Scrimgeour, "Langston Hughes"). Subsequently, in 1944, Hughes was named in a list of alleged Communists and "fellow travelers" compiled for the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), and in March 1953 he was called to testify before Senator McCarthy's Subcommittee on Investigations, where he was questioned by Roy Cohn. While Hughes emerged from the confrontation relatively unscathed, "the experience marked him. Strong anti-Soviet sentiment continued for the rest of Hughes' life, and he could never be sure that he would not find himself once more under scrutiny… When making selections for his Selected Poems (1959), Hughes excluded all his radical socialist verse of the 1930s, obscuring the large omission by organizing his verse thematically rather than chronologically" (Leach, Langston Hughes, 136-67).
Consequently, "the language and imagery of U.S. communists that Hughes helped to originate in A New Song would take hold only for a brief moment… [his] radical revisions of the concept of interracial solidarity can be read as an original moment in U.S. literature and popular culture and appreciated as a bold aesthetic experiment" (Scott, Socialist Joy, 105). Many of the poems in New Song were removed from print until inclusion in Collected Poems (1994). "Let America be America Again," the lead poem, appeared in a July 1936 issue of Esquire. The second poem, "Justice," initially appeared in Scottsboro Limited, a booklet issued to raise money for the defense fund for the Scottsboro Boys. In New Song, "Justice" contains a change to the line. "Is a thing to which we poor are wise": with Hughes here substituting "poor" for the earlier word, "black." The volume's 17 poems also include the title poem, "A New Song," along with "Chant for Tom Mooney," "Chant for May Day," "Pride," "Ballad of Ozie Powell," "Kids Who Die," "History," "Ballads of Lenin," "Song of Spain," "Sister Johnson Marches," "Open Letter to the South," "Negro Ghetto," "Lynching Song" and "Union." With introduction by Mike Gold, the influential editor and contributor for the New Masses, whose novel about immigrants in New York, Jews Without Money (1930), helped define the proletarian literary movement that also included writers such as Jack Conroy. Arna Bontemps. William Attaway, Josephine Herbst, John Dos Passos and John Steinbeck. Bruccoli & Clark, III:159. Blockson 5979. Small institutional inkstamp to title page verso.
Interior fine with light edge-wear to fragile near-fine wrappers.