“Langston Hughes Travels in Harlem” with Sandhya Shukla | May 11, 2015
Monday, May 11. 2015 | 4:30pm
CRES Talks presents: “Langston Hughes Travels in Harlem – The Globality of the Small Story Spanish Blood,” with Sandhya Shukla, Associate Professor of American Studies and English, University of Virginia
Langston Hughes traveled, from his birthplace in Missouri, to his father’s home in Mexico, across Europe and Latin America, and of course, to Harlem. His keen representations of blackness, many have argued, must be understood through global frames. And his literary-cultural imaginary is thoroughly built through the experience of moving across all sorts of boundaries, including those of nation, language and genre. Professor Sandhya Shukla takes these insights to the space of Harlem, arguing that Hughes renders Harlem as global, not only through depicting what is outside its borders, but by exploring what is inside: differences living side by side intimately and conflictually, and a passionate desire to transgress the authorized confines of race and place.
In 1934, Hughes published a short story “Spanish Blood” that can be read as providing a link between his personal and political travels abroad and his representation of the everyday life of Harlem. This little piece illuminated major concerns: to begin, the relations between Latino migrants and African Americans in Harlem. That “Spanish Blood” was published well before larger waves of Puerto Ricans arrived in Harlem in the 1940s, and preceding his own residence on the boundary between “central” and “east” Harlem, demonstrates Hughes’s astonishing ability to see the future of Harlem communities. The focus in “Spanish Blood” on conversations about race and language, and those translations that thematize life in a place, also signal something more profound about the experience of multiplicity that can only be called a form of being global in the modern world. The stakes of this reading of Hughes’s work lie in the reimagining of Harlem and rethinking of spatial registers and representation. To paraphrase Martinican writer and critic Patrick Chamoiseau only slightly: is globality lived in place?
Sandhya Shukla is Associate Professor of English and American Studies at the University of Virginia. She has taught anthropology, history, cultural and literary studies, Asian American and African American Studies, and published widely in those fields. She is the author of India Abroad: Diasporic Cultures of Postwar America and England (2003, republished in South Asia in 2005), and essays in symploke, Cultural Studies, Amerasia, Radical History Review, Annual Review of Anthropology, and other journals and collections. She is the co-editor of Imagining Our Americas: Toward a Transnational Frame (2007). She has held fellowships at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the Society for the Humanities at Cornell University, the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, and the Asian American Studies Center at the University of California, Los Angeles. Currently she is completing a book entitled Harlem Stories: Genre, Space and Time in the Modern World.