Campus celebrates Joplin native poet Langston Hughes’ memory

Monique Canada, sophomore biology major, sings during the 14th annual Langston Hughes Celebration.

Kristin Wilfing

Monique Canada, sophomore biology major, sings during the 14th annual Langston Hughes Celebration.

For the 14th-annual Langston Hughes Celebration, students, faculty and area residents had the opportunity to learn about Hughes on a more personal level.

Guest speaker Dr. Carmeletta Williams, professor of English at Johnson County (Kan.) Community College, gave the audience a biographical look at Hughes. Her topics ranged from his childhood and his relationship with his parents, to facing discrimination at a young age, Hughes with religion and his to his ability to reach out to those of “different socioeconomic conditions.” She also injected some of Hughes work throughout the presentation.

Williams said what got her interested in the poet’s work was his versatility as an artist.

“It’s not just poetry; whatever I have a feel for he’s got,” Williams said. “And as a teacher, he’s really important because I can teach the plays, I can teach the novels, autobiography, using this one writer.”

William included the work of Hughes and how it had the power to “heal and build.”

“He is the one who gave us the gift of being able to express our lives the way we want to,” Williams said. “Even in the Harlem Renaissance, we had lots of writers trying to emulate white folks.”

Williams said Hughes is the one poet who made African Americans accept their culture as something positive.

Kathleen Hall, Joplin, said she attends the event every year and was impressed with Williams.

“It was a wealth of knowledge,” Hall said. “You could tell she did a lot of research.”

Suzy Back, Joplin, said the relation of poetry to the poet’s life was the most impressive.

“Her overview of his contributions and how he related to the “folk” was outstanding,” Back said.

“I thought all of our performers did a great job,” said Dr. Doris Walters, professor of English.

Walters said though she has always been a part of the Langston Hughes celebration, she learned a few new things during this year’s presentation about the Joplin native.

She said some of the poems Williams projected into the program connected with the biographical detail presented to the audience.

Other performances included a reading of “An Auto-Obituary,” from Dr. Michael Rodgers, professor of English, and the reading of “Dreams”, “Winter Sweetness,” “The Dream Keeper” and “Winter Moon,” by Adelle Kanan. Monique Canada, sophomore biology major performed two musical numbers “I Just Can’t Give Up Now” and “The Greatest Love of All.” Canada, known for her vocal appearances in various campus events, said she believes singing brings variety to any program.

“Monique Canada’s performance was exceptional,” said Whitney Hornaday, sophomore undecided major.

Alexis Mallory, senior speech communication major, recited poetry including, “I, too, sing America” and “Consider me.”

“When I was thinking about what I was going to do this year, I had some time to contemplate and my question that I brought to myself was ‘What has Langston Hughes done for me as an individual? What genre of work stuck out to me the most,'” Mallory said. “Of course it was his poetry, but more specifically it was his ability to show someone like myself who wasn’t alive during the Harlem Renaissance, who wasn’t alive during the civil rights movement, what it was to be an African American.”

Mark Lloyd, admissions counselor, is the annual master of ceremonies for the event. He said aside for his admiration for the Hughes work, it gives him the opportunity to work with members of the campus.

“I like having the opportunity to do things with the faculty on campus and also the students.”

“I just like the variety of the work and the pace of it,” Lloyd said. ” It is very descriptive, and it’s the type of poem that when you read it you can visualize what he is saying.”

” My hope is that I say something to make somebody want to know Hughes better.”

“I want people to appreciate that, no matter how hard your life is, you can be anything you want to be, just look at Hughes,” Williams said.

Williams is also the author of “Do Nothin’ till You Hear from Me,” a NTCE High School Literature Series. The series combining Hughes’ life and art, a focus on his blues poetry and also the novel.