The short fiction of the acclaimed poet Langston Hughes, who attended high school in Cleveland, deserves to be better known. His brilliant, funny, satirical and sometimes controversial Simple Stories feature Jesse B. Semple, a working-class African American Everyman living in Harlem, and one of the great characters of American literature.
In this reading series, we will discuss two collections of these stories, which originated in Hughes’ weekly column in the Chicago Defender: The Best of Simple and The Return of Simple. We will highlight the question: What relevance do these tales, vehicles of social commentary written between 1943 and 1965, have for us today? Placing the Simple Stories in their biographical and historical context, the complex relationship between literary art, entertainment, and politics—especially racial politics—will be at the center of our conversations. Other issues to be considered include humor; audience and reception; characterization and personae; dialogue and dialect; and stereotypes.
In addition to open discussion, each session will also include lectures (supplemented with a few audio recordings) and small-group breakout discussions.
This class takes place online via Zoom
Joel Woller is an educator. For more than three decades, he has been teaching history and English at institutions such as Ohio State University.