Simple's Uncle Sam

Langston HUGHES

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HUGHES, Langston. Simple's Uncle Sam. New York: Hill and Wang, 1965. Octavo, original yellow cloth, original dust jacket.

First edition of the final volume in Hughes' landmark series. His bold inscription, in his trademark green ink, is dated the year of publication, "To the Sylvesters, Sincerely, Langston Hughes Nov. 21, 1965."

"Hughes was already established as a poet of the people when he began a column in the Chicago Defender in 1942… in 1943 Hughes created Jesse B. Semple to express the views of ordinary Black men… none of his characters captures the hearts and minds of readers as did Semple, better known as Simple" (Harper, Introduction, Simple's Uncle Sam, xi). The nearly 50 stories in Simple's Uncle Sam—the last collection of Simple tales—moved critic J. Saunders Redding to declare "that with this volume Simple had taken his place among 'the great folk hero-gods in the American pantheon.'" The episodes "burst with references to real people, creating a graceful blend of fiction and real footage… Indelible events such as the bombing deaths of four little girls in a Birmingham Sunday School, the lynching of Emmett Till, and the murder of Medgar Evers become salient references" (Harper, Simple's Last Moves, 202, xiv-xviii).

Simple's Uncle Sam memorably ends "as did no other volume—with that signature phrase, that code word that evokes Hughes' dream: 'Dream on, dreamer, dream on.'" Hughes began assembling episodes for this final Simple volume "in late February 1965; it was published seven months later," and he stopped writing the column that December. He had noted "that none of these episodes had been published in book form before. These episodes had come from the New York Post and Chicago Defender, plus two pieces previously published in the Saturday Review. Despite Hughes' disclaimer, Simple's Uncle Sam begins with 'Census,' a revised combination of two favorites from Simple Speaks His Mind [1950] that were also reprinted in The Best of Simple [1961]… other episodes take the reader to new territory" (Harper, Not So Simple, 199-207). "First edition October 1965" stated on copyright page. Issued simultaneously in cloth (this copy) and wrappers; no priority established. Bruccoli & Clark, 167. Blockson 6382. While unconfirmed, this copy, inscribed by Hughes in the year of publication, likely belonged to Melvin Sylvester, a noted African American scholar and professor. He "was the first African-American librarian at Long Island University Post," near New York City. In his four decades at the school, he was widely respected for his "research and writing about African-American issues," authored papers on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and African Americans in the military, and also presided at a 1995 tribute to Langston Hughes (Archive of Melvin Sylvester).

Book fine; light edge-wear, faintest soiling to bright near-fine dust jacket.

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