University prepares annual celebration for famous Joplin poet

Philip Martin

Langston Hughes makes a return to the place of his birth.

At 7 p.m. Friday, in Webster Hall Auditorium, Missouri Southern will be hosting its 12th annual Langston Hughes Celebration. Retired professor, Dr. Henry Morgan and Randy Brown, who was president of the Joplin chapter of NAACP at the time, started the celebration in 1992.

Dr. Doris Walters, professor of English, said Morgan and Brown wanted to start the celebration because Hughes was from Joplin, and he was a great African-American poet. Walters said the celebration is a way to inform students and community members about a famous author.

“I think almost all literary scholars would agree that he was one of the greatest poets of the 20th century,” Walters said.

“To have a chance to increase one’s knowledge and know something about Langston Hughes is beneficial, especially since it has a special and unique connection with Joplin.”

Walters said the students would be able to get more out of the celebration than knowledge about Hughes.

“I think for one thing, besides learning something about Hughes, they’re also going to be entertained,” she said. “Music is a part of the event. We have a person who is performing some songs; we have a group of children reciting poetry. I think people will find it not only a learning experience, but they will be surprised by how much they like Hughes’ poetry.”

This year’s celebration will feature Dr. Akiba Sullivan Harper, dean of undergraduate studies at Spelman College, as the main speaker. Harper’s topic will be “Langston Hughes and Home.” She said she thought it would be nice to speak on Hughes and home, since he was from Joplin.

“Hughes seemed to be clear about what home was and wasn’t,” Harper said. “Hughes said he could sleep anywhere. He said he slept in over 100 different places.”

Harper was an editor for one of the volumes of the complete works of Hughes published by the University of Missouri Press during the centennial of Hughes’ birth in 2002.

She has also written a book Not So Simple: The “Simple” Stories of Langston Hughes.

Harper said it will be the third time she will be at Southern for the celebration.

“It’s been a good idea since the beginning,” Harper said. “It seems to get better each time.”

Harper said she enjoys the talent at the celebrations.

“The talent, the local talent, has been impressive,” she said.