English | Studies in British and American Authors
L369 | 4904 | George Hutchinson

George Hutchinson

1:25p-2:15p MWF (30 students) 3 cr., A&H.

TOPIC:  “Walt Whitman and Langston Hughes”

This class will examine the writing of two of the United States’
most admired poets.  Walt Whitman (1819-1892), sometimes called
the “father of American poetry” has had a world-wide impact
unequaled by any poet since his time; and Langston Hughes (1902-
1967), often called the “poet laureate of black America,” was the
most influential African American poet of the twentieth century,
affecting poetry throughout the black diaspora and beyond.  Notably,
Whitman was Hughes’s favorite poet.

Both writers self-consciously challenged themselves to be “poets of
democracy,” believing that democratic ideals demanded new aesthetic
practices.  Both also believed in the idea of a
distinctly “American” poetry.  Both got in trouble for overt
treatments of sexuality, and in recent years most scholars have come
believe that both were primarily homosexual.  We will study each of
these poets in their own right but also with an eye to the
relationship between them.  Questions arise such as these:  What
function did they think poetry should serve in democracy, and how
did this affect their techniques and forms?  What did “America” mean
to each poet?  What were their feelings about race
and “Americanism”?  For that matter, how did they imagine the
relationship between racial identity and poetic voice, or between
group identity and human universality?  How does human sexuality
figure in their poetry?  How did their poetry engage with the
specific political and social challenges of their times?  And why is
it still so widely admired by people of all nations, “races,”
genders, and sexualities?

While the focus will be on poetry, we will also look at their work
in other genres that helps shed light on the poetry.  Required work
will likely include weekly reading quizzes, two 5-7 page papers,
regular attendance, and vigorous participation in class discussions.