Hughes celebration brings poet laureate

Auriel Brown

In honor of the acclaimed poet and Joplin-native’s birthday, Missouri Southern will host its 13th-annual Langston Hughes celebration at Webster Hall auditorium. The event will take place Friday with featured speaker Marilyn Nelson.

Nelson is Connecticut’s Poet Laureate and author of Carver: A Life In Poems, The Homeplace and The Fields of Praise. Nelson’s book tells the life of African American inventor George Washington Carver.

Nelson’s presentation will be accompanied by readings of Hughes’s poetry and two singing selections from Southern Impact members and Southern faculty members.

Dr. Doris Walters, professor of English, said she thought Nelson would be an acceptable speaker because of her accomplishments and acknowledgement as an author.

“Her book is relatively new and can be read by adults, though it is for young adults,” Walters said.

Walters was also impressed by the fact Nelson’s book received both the Newberry and Coretta Scott King awards.

“I thought she would have something special to say to the area,” Walters said. “Especially since the George Washington Carver Monument is 20 minutes away.”

Walters said she has been dramatically involved with this event for nearly 10 years.

The celebration is sponsored by the English department and the Joplin chapter of the NAACP.

Walters said her deepest reason for wanting to be apart of the annual Langston Hughes celebration had to do with her childhood experiences.

While her mother was a teacher at what was Washington Elementary School in a predominately black neighborhood, Walters said she began to see the importance of segregation.

“The school was de facto segregation,” she said.

Walters wrote the resolution in 2002 that argued Langston Hughes should have a postage stamp named after him.

Walters said the founders of the Langston Hughes Society met on Southern’s campus.

Even though Hughes’ life in Joplin was brief, Walters said she feels he still needs to be celebrated.

Being one of the first African Americans to make a living as a writer, Hughes’s work is most credited for its impact on the Harlem Renaissance.