Guest Lecture - "Singing the Harlem Renaissance: Langston Hughes, Weimar Culture, and the German Translation of African American Modernism"
A part of the Department's Graduate Studies Colloquium series
This work, a chapter from my book manuscript The Jazz Republic: Music, Race, and American Culture in Weimar Germany, examines German translations of the poetic work of Langston Hughes during the Weimar Republic. Hughes was one of the foremost figures of the African American artistic movement known as the Harlem Renaissance. Starting in 1923, when Hughes was but 22 years old, German authors began translating his works, a project continued until the Nazi rise to power. In total, some 16 translators set his work into German and these translations in turn led to 8 composers setting his poems to music, including an operetta Schatten über Harlem. My analysis of these German-language translations of Hughes’ work suggests that they were not only indebted to Weimar and European perceptions of blackness and African American culture, but that they also profited from a transnational presence and network of Black artists during the interwar period. This latter fact, in turn, has a number of implications for the study not only of “Americanism” during Weimar, but for the methodologies through which scholars approach Weimar culture more generally.