Archive Immersion at The Smithsonian Institute: Langston Hughes and Jean Senac

We will be setting up an archive immersion of the works of Langston Hughes and Jean Senac (Series V of Lost & Found) at The Smithsonian’s Asian Pacific American Center. Come join Kai Krienke, Kate Tarlow Morgan (our editor), and me on Memorial Day.

CrossLines A Culture Lab on Intersectionality

Langston Hughes: Poems, Photos & Notebooks from Turkestan

Editor: Zohra Saed

In 1932, along with a group of African American activists and writers including novelist Dorothy West, Langston Hughes journeyed to the Soviet Union. Veering off from the “official” trip, Hughes met Arthur Koestler before venturing on to an extended journey through the newly formed republics of Central Asia. While Hughes’ readers may be familiar with his A Negro Looks at Soviet Central Asia, this chapbook makes available previously unpublished material drawn from Hughes’ notebooks, photographs, and collaborative translation projects with Uzbek poets. Just as his own work is being translated into Uzbek, Hughes—ever the participant—collaborates with his peer poets in the region to produce texts published in this collection for the first time. Finally, Hughes’ acuity of vision extends to his photographs appearing here, scenes of workers in the cotton fields of Central Asia that stand in stark contrast to official depictions of the time. Complementing The Selected Letters of Langston Hughes (2015) and a reprint of the 1926 edition of The Weary Blues, Langston Hughes: Poems, Photos & Notebooks from Turkestan reveals yet another aspect of the ever-expanding universe of one of the greatest American writers.

Author Biography:

LANGSTON HUGHES (1902-1967) was born in Joplin, Missouri, and grew up in Kansas, Illinois, and Ohio. In the 1920s, he gained a reputation as a poet, becoming a leading figure in what he called in his first autobiography “the black renaissance.” A prolific poet, prose-writer, and playwright, he served as an example to several generations of African American writers, always lending his support to younger people and new movements in the arts. From 1932-1933, Hughes traveled in the Soviet Union, spending much of his time in Central Asia and returning to the US with several notebooks, hundreds of photographs, and clippings of poems from the Central Asian writers he met there. This trip, along with his work in Spain on behalf of the Republic (featured in Lost & Found Series III), formed major episodes in Hughes’ public political engagement. While popular and known throughout the world, Hughes faced backlash at home. Despite his wishes to see work from this period gathered, these writings and photographs from his trip to the Soviet Union were never published in book form. A major 20th century cultural figure, he passed away in Harlem on May 22, 1967.

Selected Archives:

  • Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, CT
  • Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library, New York, NY

Editor Biography:

Zohra Saed is the co-editor of One Story, Thirty Stories: An Anthology of Contemporary Afghan American Literature (University of Arkansas Press) and editor of Langston Hughes: Poems, Photos and Notebook from Turkestan (Lost & Found, The CUNY Poetics Documents Initiative). Her poetry chapbook Mispelled Cities/Falsch Geschrieben (with Sahar Muradi) published for dOCUMENTA 13 Notebook Series in English/German. Her essays on the Central Asian diaspora and their food history has appeared in Eating Asian America (NYU Press) and Interviews/Essays in “Projects by Afghan American Writers and Artists” co-edited with Leila Christine Nadir in “Mixed Race in a Box” The Asian American Literary Review.  Zohra is Assistant Professor in English at Bard High School Early College, Queens NY.

Jean Sénac: The Sun Under the Weapons, Correspondence & Notes from Algeria (Part I & II)

Editor: Kai Krienke

The work and life of Algerian revolutionary and poet Jean Sénac has yet to be recognized in the Anglophone world. This chapbook presents three distinct periods in Sénac’s life, tracing three representative moments in Algerian history through a collection of archival documents. The first part of the book is a translated selection from Sénac’s 1957 manifesto The Sun Under the Weapons [Le soleil sous les armes], written in Paris at the height of the war. Addressed to both Algerian and French audiences, as well as his former friend Albert Camus (from whom he was estranged by political differences over the war), The Sun Under the Weapons is a poetic response to the violence tearing both societies apart. The second document is a series of unpublished letters Sénac exchanged with Algerian novelist Mohammed Dib from before the war (1951-1953), centered on the launch of a literary journal. Under the shadow of the encroaching war of liberation that would erupt in 1954, Sénac gathered younger and more established writers in a visionary attempt to forge a new and inclusive Algerian culture. The third document is comprised of notes Sénac took at a meeting of New Algerian poets in 1972, ten years after Algeria’s independence. Here the poet as activist focuses all his powers on a common national project at a time when revolutionary ideas had reached an impasse. Though clearly situated in Algeria, Sénac was a citizen of the world and took his poetic models from Whitman, Rimbaud, Mayakovsky, Lorca, the Beats, and the Black Arts movement. These unique documents represent distinct genres and modes of intervention, from personal correspondence, political address, to the public mediation of poets, bringing attention to a major but largely unknown 20th century cultural figure.

Author Biography:

Jean Sénac was born in 1926 in Béni Saf, Algeria, a small mining town near Oran, the illegitimate son of a working-class Spanish mother. Aside from his many poetry collections and critical essays, he directed several radio programs on poetry at Radio Alger, spearheaded three literary reviews ( M, Soleil and Terrasses), and founded Galerie 54 dedicated to Algerian art. Sénac strove throughout his life to create bridges between cultures that were being torn apart by increasing hatred and violence and the legacies of colonialism. Openly homosexual after his return to Algeria in 1962 and dedicated to promoting New Algerian poetry, Sénac was seen as an increasing liability to an Algerian leadership that had abandoned their revolutionary ideals. He was assassinated the night of August 29, 1973.

Selected Archives:

  • Jean Sénac Archives, National Library of Algiers, Algeria
  • Jean Sénac Archives, Mediterranean Literary Archives of the Alcazar Library of Marseille, France
  • Personal Archives (Hamid Nacer-Khodja, Denis Martinez)

Editor Biography:

Kai Krienke is editor of Jean Sénac: The Sun Under the Weapons, Correspondence & Notes from Algeria (Part I & II) (Lost & Found, The CUNY Poetics Documents Initiative). He is a contributor forWarscapes, and is currently translating Sénac’s correspondence with Albert Camus, to be published by Michigan State University Press. He is Assistant Professor in English at the Bard High School Early College program in Queens, New York.

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