In an ambitious reappraisal of Langston Hughes's work and legacy, Ryan James Kernan reads Hughes's political poetry in the context of his practice of translation to reveal an important meditation on diaspora. Drawing on heretofore unearthed archival evidence, Kernan shows how Hughes mined his engagements with the poetics of Louis Aragon, Nicolás Guillén, Regino Pedroso, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Federico García Lorca, and Léopold Sédar Senghor, as well as translations of his own poetry, to fashion a radical poetics that engaged Black left internationalist concerns. As he follows Hughes from Harlem to Havana, Moscow, Madrid, and finally to Dakar, Kernan reveals how the writer's identity and aesthetic were translated within these leftist geographies and metropoles, by others but also collaboratively. As Kernan argues, we cannot know Hughes without knowing him in translation.
Through original research and close readings alert to the foreign prosody underlying Hughes's work, New World Maker recuperates his political writing, which had been widely maligned by Cold War detractors and adherents of New Criticism, and affirms his place as a progenitor of African diasporic literature and within the pantheon of US modernists. Demonstrating the integral part translation played in Hughes's creative process, this book challenges a number of common assumptions about this canonical thinker and offers important insights for scholars of African diasporic literature, comparative literature, and American, Caribbean, and translation studies.
RYAN JAMES KERNAN is an associate professor of English and comparative literature at Rutgers University.
“By arguing that translation is central to the origins and reception of Langston Hughes’s poetry, Ryan Kernan’s monumental study travels where no one has gone before—not only across national boundaries but also into geopolitical movements. Examined as both translator and translated, Hughes emerges as the focal point of a Black left internationalism encompassing Europe and Latin America, as well as the US. Kernan’s incisive reliance on translation studies shows quite clearly that the cost of neglecting translation is at once scholarly and ideological.” —Lawrence Venuti, author of Contra Instrumentalism: A Translation Polemic
“In this tour de force, Kernan demonstrates the crucial role that international translation networks played in Hughes’s career as well as in the emergence of African diasporic modernist literature more broadly. New World Maker not only gives us the most comprehensive analysis available of translations of Hughes’s work into Spanish, French, and Russian, but also demonstrates through a series of dazzling close readings that Hughes’s work as a translator (of poems by Nicolás Guillén, Regino Pedroso, Vladimir Mayakovsky, and Federico García Lorca, among others) was instrumental in the development of his own poetics.” —Brent Hayes Edwards, author of The Practice of Diaspora: Literature, Translation, and the Rise of Black Internationalism
“New World Maker is a brilliant account of Langston Hughes’s complex transnational literary engagements and the significance of translation in understanding his poetry. Based on extensive and original archival research, situating Hughes in a variety of international literary and political conversations moving from Havana to the Soviet Union to Spain to Haiti, it constitutes a major rethinking of Hughes’s poetic career. By the end of Kernan’s study, one comes to realize that Langston Hughes may very well be the most widely translated American poet of the twentieth century. New World Maker offers a fascinating reevaluation of this major figure, the history of African American literature and radicalism, and the importance of translation in Black diaspora aesthetics.” —Michelle Stephens, author of Skin Acts: Race, Psychoanalysis, and the Black Male Performer
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