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Chat about the history of segregation in Lawrence with Denise Low-Weso

January 16, 2007

This chat has already taken place. Read the transcript below.

Denise Low-Weso

Denise Low-Weso is the co-author of "Langston Hughes in Lawrence: Photographs and Biographical Resources," a look at segregation-era Lawrence. She'll take questions on Tuesday.

Moderator:

Welcome. This is Dennis Anderson, managing editor of the Lawrence Journal-World. Our guest this morning is Denise Low-Weso. Denise is author of "Langston Hughes in Lawrence" and will be the Kansas Poetlaureate on July 1. How are you Denise?

Denise Low-Weso:

I'm keeping warm and stepping very very carefully on the ice! But I am ethusiastic about Langston Hughes connections to Lawrence and ready to answer questions and visit with those interested in this topic.

Moderator:

How does Lawrence today compare to the Lawrence of Langston Hughes' day?

Denise Low-Weso:

If we omit West Lawrence development and concentrate on downtown Lawrence, it is amazingly similar. The preservation efforts have made a difference in our retention of the ambiance of early 20th century Lawrence. Many buildings still stand that Langston Hughes saw when he was a boy. He lived here mostly almost from birth to age 14, when his grandmother died in 1915.

Moderator:

I see many references to Langston Hughes throughout Lawrence, from a poem painted on the stands of a ball park to a display at an Applebee's restaurant. Is he properly recognized in Lawrence?

Denise Low-Weso:

First, let me clarify some dates: Langston was born Feb. 1, 1902, and his grandmother died in Oct., 1915. He may have lived in Lawrence into 1916 with the Reeds on New York St. He and his mother and grandmother resided in Lawrence in early 1902, just months after his birth. He occasionally lived with his mother in Topeka or other places, but these were temporary.

Is he recognized enough? In the 1970s, Bill Tuttle, Katie Armitage, and some other scholars revived recognition of this great African American poet. This was the beginning of Lawrence becoming aware of how important he was and of how much of his life did transpire in Lawrence. Previous biographers were not from the Midwest and glossed over his early years as a blur. But city directories and oral histories show how much of his life really was located in Lawrence. I think the lack of communication between African American and academic communities before then contributed to little understanding of Lawrence's role. I also think it is important to look at Hughes's biography in context of his grandparents' abolitionist activities. Both Mary Sampson Langston and Charles Langston were very active in the 1850s and 1860s. This created a context for their pride and sense of history and good educations--they both attended Oberlin College.

Moderator:

How did his years here influence his work?

Denise Low-Weso:

Many influences abounded in Lawrence for a young African American child in the early 20th century. Despite prejudice and Jim Crow laws, schools were integrated after 3rd grade, and he did receive a good fundamental education. Also, he attended church, both Warren (9th) St. Baptist Church and St. Luke's AME Church. These churches had social, political and arts societies and events, as well as worship. Hughes heard poetry recitations, dramas, and music. Also, the popular culture of the time included visitors who traveled on the train and stopped off. Some of these were musicians and performers. Lawrence was a crossroads, so urban influences from KC and Chicago were available, and also rural influences from Texas. And Lawrence was on the vaudeville booking tours, for both mainstream and African American touring groups. So this young genius had a lot of opportunities. He also tells about, in a 1960s interview, traveling on the trolley car and enjoying that influence as well! So many things may influence our children.

Moderator:

Has Langston Hughes' work influenced your writing?

Denise Low-Weso:

I think his work has influenced all American poetry and writing. My own writing, let's see: I am influenced to write in many genres, like he was. I am interested in some of the same themes. I want to write in my language idioms. The example of his work encourages an American, not British or Continental aesthetic. In my recent book WORDS OF A PRAIRIE ALCHEMIST, I have a section on how much contemporary poets still hearken back to European values.

Moderator:

What will be your responsibilities as the poetlaureate?

Denise Low-Weso:

This might be a good opportunity to mention Napoleon Crews' new serialized novel about Langston Hughes being published by Fireside Novels. This will be a great addition to literature about Langston Hughes in Lawrence. As poet laureate, I will be spreading the word about poetry and literature, like this. I look forward to promoting the literary arts during this tenure, through appearances (I will be speaking at a reception Wed. the 17th 5:30-7 at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 NH); publications; and electronic sites like kansaspoets.com and my own blog deniselow.blogspot.com.

Comments

cutny 7 years, 11 months ago

Denise Weso Low's poetry is both beautiful and a joy to read. She's a true asset to Kansas' culture.

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