How Letters From His Mother Influenced the Writing of Langston Hughes

dearboybookA new book, My Dear Boy, edited by John Edgar Tidwell, a professor of English at the University of Kansas, and Carmaletta Williams, a professor of English and African American studies at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas, sheds new light on the writings of Langston Hughes.

His parents separated and Langston Hughes spent much of his childhood with his grandmother in Lawrence, Kansas. He spent parts of his adolescent years living with his mother.

The authors examined a set of about 130 letters that Carrie Hughes sent to her son Langston between 1926 and 1938, a period when Langston Hughes was a student at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and later was a writer living in New York. The letters are housed in the Langston Hughes Papers collection at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.

There are no records of responses Hughes sent to his mother. But Professors Tidwell and Williams believe that Hughes’ early writings reflect his working out the complicated relationship he had with his mother. They point out that Hughes’ first novel Not Without Laughter refers to money and other family issues that are found in the Carrie Hughes letters. In his play “Soul Gone Home,” Langston Hughes writes about a young man who died but rises out of his casket to confront his mother about how he was raised.

Dr. Tidwell
Dr. Tidwell

Professor Tidwell states that “instead of writing her letters to express his anger and disappointment, this and other pieces show him working out his own frustration with his mother via art.”

Dr. Tidwell is a graduate of Washburn University in He holds a master’s degree from Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Minnesota.

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