"MY 13TH BOOK!… WITH A HARLEM BLACKGROUND": EXTRAORDINARY PRESENTATION/ASSOCIATION FIRST EDITION OF SIMPLE TAKES A WIFE, WONDERFULLY INSCRIBED BY LANGSTON HUGHES TO ALTA DOUGLAS, MOTHER OF THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE, WHOSE HOME WITH HUSBAND AARON DOUGLAS WAS A HAVEN FOR HUGHES, W.E.B. DU BOIS AND OTHERS
HUGHES, Langston. Simple Takes a Wife. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1953. Octavo, original laminated pictorial tan cloth rebacked with original spine laid down. $4800.
First edition of the breakthrough second work in Hughes' popular series, a "superior achievement" (New York Times), an exceptional presentation/association copy inscribed in the year of publication by Hughes on the colophon page to Alta Douglas, wife of renowned artist Aaron Douglas and viewed as the mother of the Harlem Renaissance, "Especially for Alta—my 13th book!—this story with a Harlem Blackground [sic]—Sincerely, Langston, New York, April 29, 1953." At her death six years later, Hughes mourned with those who saw that her "passing marked definitely 'the closing of the ring' on the Harlem Renaissance"(Arnold Rampersad).
Simple Takes a Wife, the second in Hughes' popular series, won praise by Ralph Ellison as "a vivid picture of Negro life and its richness." On publication the New York Times declared it "a superior achievement to the first of the series, Simple Speaks His Mind (1950). The new book is more of a piece, the material is more carefully and competently arranged, more unexpectedly presented; it is more brilliant, more skillfully written, funnier, and perhaps just a shade more tragic than its predecessor… This is true humor with a bite to it, spoken in the authentic language of 135th Street." While Hughes, in his lifetime, was "an international figure and, notably, an inspiration for black writers in Africa and the Caribbean… only in recent years have his monumental accomplishments been fully realized… 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" (Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature I:242).
Hughes' 1957 Broadway play, Simply Heavenly, was largely based on Simple Takes a Wife. With "First Printing" on copyright page; as issued without dust jacket. Bruccoli & Clark III:163. Blockson 6381. Considered by many to be the mother of the Harlem Renaissance, Alta and her husband, renowned artist Aaron Douglas, "were known for the fame of their guests and for the intellectual and social events that took place in their home at Harlem's most prestigious address— 409 Edgecombe Avenue. In the circle were James Weldon Johnson, Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, Alain Locke and W.E.B. Du Bois" (New York Times). At Alta's death in the 1950s, Hughes and others mourned the loss of a woman whose "death had a special meaning… Alta and Aaron Douglas had formed the warm human center of a group of gifted black young men and women who had come together for the first time in New York… her passing marked definitely 'the closing of the ring' on the Harlem Renaissance" (Rampersad, Life Vol I:291-2). In My Early Days in Harlem, written in the early 1960s, Hughes speaks of Alta in recalling "how the movement of people and cultures made Harlem a unique mix of diverse black cultures…'Magnet Harlem, pulling an Arthur Schomburg from Puerto Rico, an Arna Bontemps all the way from California… an Alta Douglas from Kansas. Melting pot Harlem'" (Guridy, Forging Diaspora, 117). With owner inscription: Alta Douglas, 409 Edge Ave. N.Y. 32, N.Y."
Text generally fresh with usual embrowning, a few leaves roughly opened, faint rubbing to laminate of boards. An extremely good presentation copy with an especially key association.