A "DECEPTIVELY PROFOUND LITTLE BOOK": FIRST EDITION OF FIRST BOOK OF RHYTHMS, 1954, BOLDLY INSCRIBED IN THE YEAR OF PUBLICATION BY LANGSTON HUGHES
HUGHES, Langston. The First Book of Rhythms. New York: Franklin Watts, 1954. Square quarto, original red-stamped green cloth, pictorial endpapers, original dust jacket.
First edition, first printing of the pivotal second work in Hughes' influential series, showing "how all the world is connected by rhythm," an exceptional presentation copy boldly inscribed by him in the year of publication, "For the Tom Johnsons—Sincerely—Langston Hughes, New York, May 1954," a defining work that also signals the "jazz, blues and Black vernacular speech rhythms in his poetry," with colorful illustrations by Robin King, in elusive original dust jacket.
In his five-volume First Book series, Hughes "traces the African journey… from First Book of Negroes (1952), through First Book of Rhythms (1954), First Book of Jazz (1955) and First Book of the West Indies (1956) to First Book of Africa (1960)… To Hughes, the 'rhythms of life' connect idioms, for the universe seems to be an almost living organism that connects all people and things" (Miller, Art and Imagination of Langston Hughes, xvii). Hughes was especially "pleased with his First Books of Rhythms, a 'deceptively profound little book,' one scholar judged" (Rampersad, Life V.II: 232). "Starting with zigzag lines on paper, Hughes' book proceeds through musical notes, the ebb and flow of water, a man batting a ball,and a child spinning a top to show how all the world is connected by rhythms" (Kirkus), and he skillfully "ties it all together into one big beautiful package" (New York Times).
The book's passages on rhythms "put into music and poetry" also point to "Hughes' representation of jazz, blues and Black vernacular speech rhythms in his poetry… Wynton Marsalis suggests that Hughes based his model for rhythm's interconnectivity on a jazz ensemble where all the players must keep the rhythm, unlike other genres of music where the drummer alone takes on this responsibility. Extending this metaphor… it could be said that Hughes conceptualized the relationship between writer, reader and text as a jazz ensemble… jazz rhythm (as opposed to metrical verse rhythm) presents a model of democratic collectivity, without implying the need for hierarchy or unison" (Neigh, Recalling Recitation, 87). In Marsalis' introduction to a 1995 edition, he notes: "As a writer, Hughes likes to swing his thoughts on the printed page. Rhythm was his business, too." First edition: with "First Printing" stated on title page. The lively, colorful "illustrations by Robin King are closely integrated with the text and dramatic in their simplicity" (New York Times). Blockson 5259. Bruccoli & Clark III:163. Gift bookplate of the recipients, Anna and Thomas O. Johnson, to "Community Church of New York Library." Dr. Thomas Johnson, a longtime friend of Hughes, was a philanthropist and dentist whose practice was on 138th Street in Harlem.
Interior fine, spine of book with evidence of label removal; light expert restoration to colorful near-fine dust jacket.