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A Note From The Director

Langston Hughes Festival

A Note From The Director

The Langston Hughes Festival announces its 40th annual award ceremony, scheduled for Thursday, November 15, 2018.

My mother used to take me to see all the plays that came to Topeka like Buster Brown, Under Two Flags, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin. We were very fond of plays and books.  Once we heard Faust…When I was in the second grade, my grandmother took me to Lawrence to raise me.  And I was unhappy for a long time, and very lonesome, living with my grandmother   Then it was that books began to happen to me, and I began to believe in nothing but books and the wonderful world in books–where if people suffered, they suffered in beautiful language, not in monosyllables, as we did in Kansas. And where almost always the mortgage got paid off, the good knights won, and the Alger boy triumphed.  Our mortgage never got paid off–for my grandmother was not like the other colored women of Lawrence.  She didn’t take in washing or go out to cook, for she had never worked for anyone. 
--Langston Hughes,  The Big Sea

When I was eight I told her I wanted to be a writer. Writing things down was the only way I understood how to be heard, there being so many women in my mother’s house at various times, talking. For years after I told my mother I wanted to be a writer, she would give me, as Christmas presents, writing tablets to write things down in; she would also give me books to read that she brought from the Liberation Bookshop on Nostrand Avenue. The books were almost always books of poems or novels, and were almost always by women, such as Alice Childress’ A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ but a Sandwich, Maud Martha, by Gwendolyn Brooks, and anything by Paule Marshall. In between reading all of that, I also read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith, more than once. She spent many hours with me alone, in the dark, in her bedroom, listening to me lie. Somehow, she knew that most writers became writers after having spent their childhood lying. Or perhaps she didn’t know that at all. She was extremely tolerant of my lies. She was interested in where my lies could take her.
-- Hilton Als,  The Women

The Langston Hughes Festival committee is incredibly excited about honoring Hilton Als with the 2018 Langston Hughes medal.  Hilton Als became a staff writer at The New Yorker in 1994 and a theatre critic in 2002. He began contributing to the magazine in 1989, writing pieces for The Talk of the Town.

Before coming to The New Yorker, Als was a staff writer for the Village Voice and an editor-at-large at Vibe. His first book, “The Women,” was published in 1996. His most recent book, “White Girls,” a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the winner of the Lambda Literary Award in 2014, discusses various narratives of race and gender.

Als work is teeming with observation, analysis and insights that are wholly original yet instantly resonant. In recognition of his distinguished criticism, the 2017 Pulitzer committee awarded him a Pulitzer “For bold and original reviews that strove to put stage dramas within a real-world cultural context, particularly the shifting landscape of gender, sexuality and race.” Like Langston Hughes Als has a strong interest in music as well as collaboration with the visual arts.  He edited the catalogue for the 1994-95 Whitney Museum of American Art exhibition “Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art,” and more recently curated Alice Neel, Uptown as well as several exhibits at Victoria Miro in London.  He has also engaged in essential dialogue via introductions and essays on artists such as Kara Walker, Glenn Ligon, Lorna Simpson, and Bill Cunningham. On the internet, Als’ Instagram posts provide a visual document of his singular vision

Our daylong celebration begins with our symposium at 12:30PM, featuring Thelma Golden, Margo Jefferson, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, and CCNY professors Boukary Sawadogo and Salar Abdoh, and culminates in a 6:30 PM ceremony where we will award Hilton Als with the Langston Hughes Medal at Aaron Davis Hall.

We hope to see you in November!

Retha Powers, Director