2021 marks the centennial anniversary of Langston Hughes publishing one of his best known poems, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” The poem was a signature poem of the Harlem Renaissance and written by a teenage Hughes as he was crossing the Mississippi River on his way to see his father in Mexico. It was Hughes’ first poem to be published in The Crisis, the NAACP’s official magazine edited by W. E. B. Du Bois. Like the magazine it was published in, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” has been a touchstone for generations owing to its themes of race pride, historic and diasporic consciousness, and eloquent dignity in the face of centuries-old patterns of slavery and racial violence. Panelists will remark upon the importance of Hughes and his poem and suggest how we might connect both to artistic and literary productions shaping, and shaped by, the Black Lives Matter movement(s) in our own time, all the while pointing out how one or the other movement may (or may not) be unprecedented after all.
Tony Bolden, Professor of African and African-American Studies, University of Kansas
Bolden’s published works include Afro-Blue: Improvisations in African American Poetry and Culture (University of Illinois Press, 2004) and Groove Theory: The Blues Foundation of Funk (University Press of Mississippi, 2020). Bolden serves as Editor of The Langston Hughes Review.
Autumn Womack, Assistant Professor of English and African American Studies, Princeton University
Womack is the author of The Matter of Black Living: The Aesthetic Experiment of Racial Data, 1880-1930 (forthcoming from The University of Chicago Press, 2022). Her research and teaching interests are located at the intersection of African American literature, visual studies, and print culture.
Aldon Lynn Nielsen, The George and Barbara Kelly Professor of American Literature, Penn State
Nielsen is the author most recently of Back Pages: Selected Poems of A.L. Nielsen (BlazeVox Books, 2021) and The Inside Songs of Amiri Baraka (Palgrave MacMillan, 2021). Nielsen has won numerous awards for his poetry, edited volumes, and critical scholarship including a Larry Neal Award for Poetry, the Josephine Miles Award, two Gertrude Stein Prizes, the SAMLA Studies Prize, a Darwin Turner Award, and an American Book Award.
Laura Vrana, Assistant Professor of English, University of South Alabama
Vrana’s teaching and research focus on African American literature. Her recent scholarship includes several articles focused on Black women poets including Thylias Moss, Robin Coste Lewis, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Evie Shockley published in various journals including MELUS, Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, the Journal of Ethnic American Literature, and Obsidian.
This webinar is part of the 2020–22 CALS “Unprecedented” Webinar Series.