About New World Maker: Radical Poetics, Black Internationalism and the Translations of Langston Hughes

My book
New World Maker: Radical Poetics, Black Internationalism and the Translations of Langston Hughes is a substantial revision of my doctoral work. I argue that translation not only offers a new and fruitful perspective from which to interpret Hughes's oeuvre, but also draws into relief the seminal importance of his literary production in translation to the poesia negra movement in Latin America and to the formation and evolution of négritude poetry and poetics across the African Diaspora. The work of Hughes and his translators constitutes a stream of literary interventions intended to facilitate the agendas of multiple, oft times competing, internationalisms which placed a high value on the role of literary exchange in fostering rapprochement between communities that lacked a common language but shared a common cause. By providing an expansive account of these literary exchanges, my book contributes to the larger projects of mapping the diversity of inter-American literary traffic and tracing the origins and practice of 20th century Black radicalisms worldwide.

New World Maker is a case study, a new mode of inquiry into the study of translation, and a literary and cultural genealogy. Each of the book's seven chapters takes up a point of entanglement between Hughes's composition of radical poetry, his thinking about black radical internationalism, and the influential work of his translators in light of the historical events that shaped each endeavor. In attending to these overlaps and cross-pollinations, I chart how Hughes's views on translation evolved--from one that equated the 'translation' of black folk-art with the composition of authentic black poetry to one that saw the practice as an ethical means to foment a heterogeneous brand of black radical internationalism. The book's conceptual originality arises, in turn, not only from its exploration of how Hughes's evolving thoughts about and techniques of translation led him to revise his thinking about black collectivity (and vice versa), but also from its examination of how Hughes's ideas of the ethics of black internationalism fundamentally shaped his work as a poet. The book’s investigation of these points of entanglement also make it possible to ‘fill in the holes’ of their component parts—to construct arguments that account for the transformations that each underwent, and that explore how literary black radicalism shaped the political discourses of black internationalism. In short, the book uses extant histories to explore the literary translations, and uncovers histories of pan-Africanist self-becoming via the close scrutiny of translation decisions made by Hughes and his translators.

New World Maker traces the genesis and growth of Hughes’s radical repertoire by following him from Harlem to Havana in 1930 and 1931, from Moscow in 1933 to Madrid in 1937, and, finally, from Dakar to Harlem in 1966. Relying heretofore unearthed archival evidence and the close scrutiny of Hughes’s translations and original verse, I demonstrate how his engagements with the poetry and poetics of Regino Pedroso, Vladimir Mayakovsky, and Federico García Lorca profoundly affected the verse he wrote in the wake of each endeavor, affording him the literary capital to write poems intended both to propagate the worldwide spread of communism and to champion black radicalism in a manner that troubled iterations of racial essentialism and conceptions of the African Diaspora as homogenous. In so doing, I offer an engaging leftist travel narrative that not only shows how Hughes’s adventures abroad widened the scope of his poetic and political horizons, but also provide insight into an exciting and pivotal epoch in the African American experience.

New World Maker employs a multidisciplinary approach—one that draws upon modes of historical and sociological analysis, cultural criticism, traditional strategies of literary interpretation, and contemporary theories of translation—to elucidate the centrality of the work of Hughes and his translators to the fomentation of twentieth century literary black radicalism. My arguments draw upon recent developments in the fields of Translation Studies, Literature of the African Diaspora, and Literature of the Americas exemplified in works written by Efraín Kristal, Suzanne Jill Levine, Brent Hayes Edwards, Paul Gilroy, and Kirsten Silva Gruesz. They reflect a commitment to teasing out the processes of reading, writing, and re-writing that are central to Hughes’s practice of translation and the work of his translators. At the same time, they underscore the extent to which these processes and practices are embedded in the evolving ideological and historical contexts that surround literary production in the Hispanic, Francophone, and African American literary worlds.

The novel angles of vision provided by
New World Maker correspondingly break new ground in the fields mentioned above by providing the first comparative study of the translation, dissemination, and reception of a single author’s oeuvre in multiple linguistic and literary arenas. I draw upon extensive archival material collected from Yale’s Beinecke Library, N.Y.P.L.’s Schomburg Library, the Bibliothèque National de France, and the Biblioteca Nacional de Chile to make arguments about translations not only in relation to their originals, but also in light of literary and political practices and institutions—from the impact of correspondence between authors, translators and publishers on the adumbration of the African Diaspora, to the effect that heretofore uncovered translations, manuscripts, drafts and abortive literary efforts have on our understanding of Hughes and his verse. My book constructs a literary genealogy of black left internationalism as told through the career of Langston Hughes.