Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins and illustrated by Ann Grifalconi, Don’t You Turn Back is a collection of most of the best-known poems by the best-known African American poet of the twentieth century. It contains a nostalgic introduction by Langston Hughes’s good friend, the scholar Arna Bontemps, a note on the selections by the editor, thirteen woodcut illustrations by Grifalconi, and indexes of titles and first lines. The poems are arranged in four sections: “My People,” “Prayers and Dreams,” “Out to Sea,” and “I Am a Negro.” Hughes’s earliest poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” is included, as are his most famous pieces. The title, Don’t You Turn Back, is a line from “Mother to Son”:

So, boy, don’t you turn back.Don’t you set down on the steps’Cause you finds it kinder hard.Don’t you fall now—For I’se still goin’, honey,I’se still climbin’,And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

These lines capture well the range of themes and forms in the volume: love, hate, hope, despair, and family piety and devotion. The language is familiar, often colloquial, always accessible.

“Aunt Sue’s Stories” tells of a gentle woman who, like Hughes, weaves stories for her favorite children of times from slavery days to the present. “Sun Song” likewise joins the sunbaked roads of Africa to those of Georgia. “Troubled Woman” asks readers to honor the wisdom...

(The entire section is 695 words.)