So, I’m reading one of Langston Hughes’ autobiographies/memoirs — I Wonder As I Wander. It’s perhaps some of the most beautiful prose I’ve ever read, and it’s arresting in its richness and simplicity. What’s even more fascinating is that while it was published in 1956, it’s placed firmly during his young-adulthood, which was during the late 20s/early 30s. This is notable for two reasons: one, he’s a very young man and has already achieved quite a bit of critical acclaim in the “Negro” community for his first round of poems; and two, his account is set firmly in the middle of The Great Depression and the Jim Crow South. It’s very interesting to read about a young black man who was so successful at this point in American history, and to read about the obstacles (with very concrete examples) of what he faced as a black man during that time.
The absurdity of the rules of Jim Crow really show through when he describes how, while in Savannah, GA, he goes to the train station to secure a copy of the Sunday edition of the New York Times. There is no newsstand in the “Colored” waiting room, and as it’s early in the morning, he decides to venture over to the “White” waiting room to patronize the newsstand in there. He secures his copy, and as he is preparing to leave, a (white) police officer confronts him, and tells him that he can neither enter or exit through the only door to the waiting room, as it’s a “White” waiting room and he is not. Hughes then asks the officer how exactly he should go about leaving so that he can remedy the situation; the officer tells him that he must walk the tracks to leave the station. He doesn’t describe this in too much detail, but I’m sure it meant walking all the way around the station so that he can just make it to the front door.
His whole life story is completely fascinating, and I am slowly working my way through his canon. I’ll let you know how it goes.
PS — It just occurred to me that it’s somewhat of a weird coincidence that I’m reading his book (and writing about it) in February…