"THESE STORIES, SOME OF THEM WRITTEN IN THE HAPPINESS OF 'INNISFREE'": AN ESPECIALLY MEMORABLE PRESENTATION/ASSOCIATION FIRST EDITION OF LANGSTON HUGHES' LAUGHING TO KEEP FROM CRYING, 1952, INSCRIBED BY HIM IN THE YEAR OF PUBLICATION
HUGHES, Langston. Laughing to Keep from Crying. New York: Henry Holt, (1952). Octavo, original half blue cloth, original dust jacket. $5500.
First edition of Hughes' major second collection of short fiction, an important presentation/association copy boldly inscribed by him in the year of publication to his longtime patron and "most trusted confidant," with Hughes' inscription covering an entire page, "For Noel—these stories, some of them written in the happiness of 'Innisfree'—Affectionately, Langston, New York, March 6, 1952."
"More than any other American writer, Langston Hughes brought African American culture and traditions into American literature" (Oxford Encyclopedia, 237). Laughing to Keep from Crying, his first collection of short fiction in nearly two decades, highlights the finest aspects of his work: his "simple, direct, style, the thirst for social criticism, the balance between satire and comedy, the basic, easily recognizable plot line, and the ability to create 'everyman' characters" (Ostram, Langston Hughes). Its title, drawn from a blues lyric, especially speaks to how "Hughes was galvanized by the music of his people, whether blues, jazz, or religious… his specific commitment to depicting and strengthening the African American heartbeat in America… gave him a place of central importance in 20th-century African American literature and American literature generally" (Gates and Higginbotham, African American Lives, 420-22). On publication, the stories in Laughing won immediate praise as "highly successful… each is the work of a 'writer' in the finest sense of the word" (New York Times).
This copy is inscribed by Hughes to Noel Sullivan, a leading California patron of the arts. The two met in 1932 when Hughes, "exhausted at the end of his first cross-country tour, passes several blissful days at Sullivan's mansion on Hyde Street in San Francisco. Captivated by the Black poet's gentle blend of integrity, courage and innocence," Sullivan often provided both a writer's retreat and welcome peace for Hughes at his Carmel-by-the-Sea home, named Innisfree after Yeats' poem, Lake Isle of Innisfree (Rampersad V.II:7).As Hughes notes in this copy's inscription, it was at Innisfree that Hughes authored important works appearing here, such as the stories "Why, You Reckon?" and "On the Road." In addition to his treasured friendship with Hughes, Sullivan regularly "played host to the leading artists of the day," including Paul Robeson, Robinson Jeffers and Marian Anderson (Stone, Master of Hollow Hills). Sullivan and "all he stood for endeared him to Hughes, and for a quarter of a century he was the poet's most trusted confidant" (Berry, Langston Hughes, 150). Hughes dated this inscription the same day as the NAACP "Great Night Event," held in Madison Square Garden. Hughes had set aside writing projects to work for the rally, and he composed, with musicians Josh White, Margaret Bonds and Sammy Heywood, The Ballad of Henry Moore, in honor of the murdered NAACP activist. "First edition" stated on copyright page. Containing 24 stories, many appearing in magazines such as The New Yorker, The Crisis, Esquire and Story. Bruccoli & Clark III:162.
Book fine; light edge-wear, mild chipping to head of lightly toned spine. A near-fine presentation copy with highly significant provenance.