Monday, April 30, 2018
Why books by Langston Hughes and Adrian Matejka appeal to high school black boys, collegiate black men
Adrian Matejka will deflect any comparison to Langston Hughes, mainly pointing out that no contemporary poet comes close to matching Hughes's body of work and his influence on American and African American literature and culture. Understood and agreed. However, in the worlds of high school black boys and black men college students where I reside, it's worth mentioning Hughes and Matejka in the same sentences.
When I organize annual book fairs for the language arts conferences I organize for high school black boys, I always include copies of books by Hughes and Matejka. The high school students have always already heard of Hughes, so they are excited to grab a free copy of one of his books. The high school students usually haven't heard of Matejka, but my college guys are there, and they always recommend The Big Smoke.
I've taught several different volumes of poetry over my years as a professor, but none has been as popular among black collegiate men as Matejka's The Big Smoke -- a volume of poetry about the first black heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson. The volume of poetry opens possibilities for us to have extended conversations about bad men, athletes facing racism, and various related poets and poems.
The book by Hughes give the young students a chance to acquire a full volume by a poet that they may have read only one or two poems by. The Matejka book gives them a chance to consider a volume of poetry by this talented, bodacious, and unruly historically significant black man. For some reason, that makes the book really appealing to the high school black boys and collegiate black men.
• Langston Hughes
• Adrian Matejka