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Archive for Friday, June 8, 2001

Famous faces to toast author

June 8, 2001

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The guest list for Langston Hughes' 100th birthday party includes some big names.

Actor Danny Glover, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker and former U.S. poet laureate Robert Pinsky will be among those in Lawrence this winter to honor the poet during a symposium sponsored by Kansas University.

Hughes, born Feb. 1, 1902, in Joplin, Mo., lived in Lawrence from 1903 to 1915. His book "Not without Laughter" is a fictionalized account of a bittersweet childhood in Lawrence.

The symposium, sponsored by KU and the Langston Hughes Society in Athens, Ga., will run Jan. 31 and Feb. 7 to Feb. 10. It is one of many events in Lawrence planned to celebrate Hughes' life.

"The goal of the celebration is to get to know Langston Hughes," said Bill Tuttle, professor of American studies at KU. "What participants get out of that will be very positive. (Hughes' poetry) is about humanity brotherhood and sisterhood."

Walker will kick off the symposium Jan. 31 at the Lied Center with readings and commentary on Hughes' works. She has written a biography on Hughes and won a Pulitzer Prize for her novel "The Color Purple."

Glover, best known for his role in the "Lethal Weapon" movies, will present dramatic readings of Hughes' works Feb. 7, also at the Lied Center. He also plans to visit an elementary school while he's in Lawrence to teach children about Hughes.

Pinsky will be part of a panel discussion that will take place during the same weekend at the Kansas Union.

Others who plan to attend the symposium include:

Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, actors who performed the first audio readings of Hughes' works.

Kevin Powell, writer and founding staff member and former senior writer for Vibe magazine, who helped introduce Hughes' work to the hip-hop generation.

Paule Marshall and Ishmael Reed, who are writers influenced by Hughes' work.

Arnold Rampersand, Hughes' biographer and Stanford University professor.

Heather Hoy, program manager for KU's Continuing Education department, said organizers are hoping to raise enough money to make symposium admission free for the public.

The symposium is one of several events in the works for the Hughes centennial celebration, which is being planned by the Roundtable for the Arts and Culture, a consortium of arts organizations.

"Poetry in Motion: An Evening Honoring Langston Hughes" will feature music, dance and readings Feb. 9 at the Lawrence Arts Center. Other events being planned include poetry readings at KU and at Lawrence art galleries, a writing workshop and film festivals at KU and Liberty Hall.

And, if planners secure a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, they plan to kick off a statewide series of poetry readings and discussions at public libraries.

Hoy said organizers also plan a campaign for Lawrence residents to read "Not without Laughter."

"It's really neat for our community to reflect on the fact we have such a neat diversity here, and that one of the products of that diversity went on to work so much as far as expressing himself artistically and getting the word out internationally," Hoy said.

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