“Such Friends”: 100 Years Ago, June, 1920, on a train between Missouri and Texas

Langston Hughes, 19, freshly graduated from Central High School in Cleveland, Ohio, has finished his dinner and is back in the Pullman car, looking out the window at the sunset over the mighty Mississippi.

LHughes5-w HS friends

Langston Hughes (far left) with high school friends

On his way to visit his father in Toluca, Mexico—again—he is trying to figure out how to convince his dad to send him to Columbia University. Dad is willing to fund college if Langston goes abroad and studies engineering.

But mathematics is not Langston’s strong suit. He’s a writer. In high school he wrote for the newspaper and edited the yearbook. His favorite teacher, Miss Helen Maria Chestnutt, 40, encouraged him to write poetry, plays, short stories—anything.

One of Langston’s first poems was written to a girl he met at a dance:

…And the beauty of Susanna Jones in red

Burns in my heart a love-fire sharp like pain.

Sweet silver trumpets,

Jesus!”

Now he is mesmerized by the river, thinking of how his ancestors have been influenced by rivers throughout history. He thinks,

I’ve known rivers.”

Langston writes that sentence on the back of an envelope.

Hear Langston Hughes talk about and read his first famous poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” [it’s short] here.

“Such Friends”:  100 Years Ago… is the basis for the book, “Such Friends”:  The Literary 1920s, to be published by K. Donnelly Communications. For more information, email me at kaydee@gpysyteacher.com.

In 2020 I will be talking about writers’ salons before and after the Great War in Ireland, England, France and America in the University of Pittsburgh’s Osher Lifelong Learning program.

Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins and his relationships with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions.

If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”: Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.

6 thoughts on ““Such Friends”: 100 Years Ago, June, 1920, on a train between Missouri and Texas

  1. Kathleen,
    You might care to file this under W for ‘Where I lead, others follow’ (!) … Langston Hughes’ poem ‘The Negro Speaks Of Rivers’ appears, alongside a photo of the man, in this week’s edition of the Stratford-upon-Avon Herald, in the ‘Poem for our age’ slot.

  2. Langston Hughes is new to me .. really enjoyed hearing him talk and reading his poem – says a great deal very concisely – not an easy achievement. Thanks for the introduction, Kathleen!

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