Langston Hughes has accurately been described as "the Laureate of Black America," and Meltzer's biography is an excellent introduction to his life and work. Hughes's collaboration with Meltzer, first on A Pictorial History of the Negro in America and then on Black Magic: A Pictorial History of the Negro in American Entertainment, led to the development of a solid working relationship that grew into friendship. Hughes recognized that Meltzer's experience in writing and research prepared him for the task of organizing material accumulated over a lifetime, and that Meltzer's essential decency made him an unusually sensitive interpreter of the complexities of race relations in the United States. He felt confident that Meltzer would present his life with fairness and insight when he agreed to Meltzer's request to assist with the writing of a short biography, and he answered Meltzer's questions with as much accuracy as could be expected from a man who has been described as "so private as to conceal his innermost emotions even from himself." Hughes's sudden death while the project was under way made Meltzer realize that his book would be something of a semiofficial obituary tribute, and although the book is not comprehensive, its concluding chapter offers a concise summary of those aspects of Hughes's life and work that Meltzer especially admired.
The recent publication of the first two volumes of Arnold Rampersad's The Life of Langston Hughes (1986, 1988) has revealed an elusive man even more complex than the portrait in Meltzer's book, but Rampersad's exceptional study has not undermined the essential points that Meltzer makes. In showing the social, familial, and economic pressures Hughes...
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