I Wonder as I Wander: An Autobiographical Journey – Langston Hughes

This was an incredibly enjoyable autobiography of one of my favourite poets, Langston Hughes. In the preface, Margaret Walker says about Hughes, “Langston Hughes loved life and all people, and at the same time worked diligently at his craft and art of writing and was one of the most prolific writers in this (20th) Century. His influence on Black world literature is immense.”

The autobiography focused on Hughes’ thoughts and experiences while travelling around the world during the 1930s, and how his travels shaped his craft and personal philosophy. Some of the places he visited were Haiti, Cuba, the former Soviet Union, and Japan. His insights were really fascinating and thought-provoking. His experiences as a black man were even more so as race did play a part in his travels. He showed that the world was a lot more diverse than many thought, even back then. I learned some fascinating information about the world and also about Hughes, the most interesting was perhaps that he was quite good friends with Alfred Koestler, whom he travelled with.

I couldn’t help thinking how difficult travelling was back then. Nowadays our biggest problems seem to be whether we can get a wi-fi connection but in those days even finding a good quality pencil to write with was a challenge for Hughes!

His experiences in the former Soviet Union were the most illuminating for me. He met the most interesting people there and also considered the parallels between the blacks in the racist American South and the Uzbeks who were downtrodden members of the Soviet Union. He realized art can be therapeutic in those cases: “To me as a writer, it was especially interesting to observe how art of all sorts – writing, painting, the theatre- was being utilized as a weapon against the evils of the past.”

Hughes was definitely a funny guy. He never failed to see the humour or irony in situations: “In El Paso it was strange to find that just by stepping across an invisible line into Mexico, a Negro could buy a beer in any bar, sit anywhere in the movies, or eat in any restaurant, so suddenly did Jim Crow disappear, and Americans who would not drink beside a Negro in Texas, did so in Mexico. Funny people, Southerners.”

A great read, one that I will gladly read again.


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