‘“Drums are not for Gentlemen”: Class and Race in Langston Hughes’ Haitian Encounter’

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    Abstract

    This article focuses on the trip to Haiti made by Langston Hughes in the spring of 1931. It examines Hughes' reflections on Haitian class and race relations as they were articulated in two short essays, People without Shoes and White Shadows in Black Land, as well as in his autobiography I Wonder as I Wander (1956). All three texts explore the cultural differences between a large peasantry which spoke Kreyl and worshipped vodou, and a smaller, French-speaking Catholic elite. One of the prime movers of the New Negro Movement, Hughes' writing on Haiti, a nation of totemic significance in the Black Atlantic world, but occupied by American forces since July 1915, positioned the loa-worshipping peasantry closer to Africa, and hence to the locus of an authentic blackness, than the elite who privileged French culture, and had therefore sold out their black cultural heritage. The article also examines the connections between Hughes' thinking and the cultural and political agenda expounded by those poets and writers associated with Haitian indignisme. Hughes thus emerges from the article as a central figure in internationally constructed debates: about black identity, about an emergent black consciousness, and about the connections between diasporic black culture and an African heritage.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)107-122
    JournalInternational Journal of Francophone Studies
    Volume14
    Issue number1-2
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2011

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