"THIS NOW RARE BOOK SIGNED": VERY MEMORABLE PRESENTATION/ASSOCIATION FIRST EDITION OF SHAKESPEARE IN HARLEM, INSCRIBED IN THE YEAR OF PUBLICATION BY LANGSTON HUGHES TO AFRICAN AMERICAN LABOR LEADER HELENE POWELL AND HER DAUGHTER
HUGHES, Langston. Shakespeare in Harlem. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1942. Octavo, original half orange and black cloth, original dust jacket. $5200.
First edition of Hughes' major book of poetry—"a work of genuine talent and artistry"—a distinctive presentation/association copy inscribed by him in the year of publication to groundbreaking Black labor leader Helene Powell of California's ILWU and her daughter Joy, with Hughes' warm inscription reading, "Inscribed especially for Helene and Joy, from Louise, with sincere best regards from—Langston Hughes, Chicago, March 8, 1942,” with frontispiece and 12 full-page illustrations by E. McKnight Kauffer.
"Shakespeare in Harlem was emphatically, unashamedly about being black… resounding in its success as a representation of the lives and thoughts of the mass of black Americans… In building this book of poems on the blues, Langston had returned to the inspiration for his greatest creative period." While Hughes was distressed over the design of the dust jacket, Van Vechten assured him: "The whole book sings with that kind of wistful loneliness you have made peculiarly your own" (Rampersad, Life V.I:390). On publication the Christian Science Monitor praised it as "'a work of genuine talent and skillful artistry." The Saturday Review of Literature noted: "rarely in our poetry do we find this subtle blending of tragedy and comedy. It is an exquisite art and a difficult one," and the Herald-Tribune reviewer especially "spoke of 'so sure a touch and an insight so genuine' in Hughes' brilliant gliding between exhilaration and despair" (Rampersad, Life V.II: 40-42). "First Edition" stated on copyright page. With frontispiece and 12 full-page illustrations after drawings by E. McKnight Kauffer. Bruccoli & Clark III:160. Blockson 6355. This presentation/association copy is inscribed by Hughes for Black labor leader Helene Powell and her daughter Joy. Born in 1919 Powell was president of the Negro Students Club while studying at UC Berkeley. Following graduation she became active in San Francisco's International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union, Local 6 (ILWU). "In 1943 Powell was appointed the ILWU's International Representative to L.A. where she helped organize aircraft employees, worked on housing reform and, as part of the CIO Political Action Committee, recruited and registered African American voters… In the mid-1940s Powell returned to San Francisco, becoming a member of the Legislative Committee of the ILWU" (California Historical Society). "Powell organized and represented many women in the growing L.A. military supply industries, especially the large number of Black women who worked in the sector of reclamation, a crucial component of the war effort" (150 Years of Women at Berkeley). Owner bookplate of Helene Powell.
Book fine; very light edge-wear mainly to spine ends of handsome about-fine dust jacket.