Carmaletta Williams

Her Dear Langston

Carmaletta M. Williams, PhD, professor of English and African American studies at Johnson County Community College, has published her second work on the author and poet Langston Hughes

Co-edited by John Edgar Tidwell, PhD, professor of English at the University of Kansas, the book “My Dear Boy  examines the role that the correspondence he had with his mother Carrie Hughes had on his works. 

In her review, Pam Kingsbury of the Library Journal, wrote, "The book successfully attempts, for the first time, to reveal the ways in which Hughes responded to his mother's letters through his own art rather than through his written replies..." 

“While reminiscent of other complicated familial relationships in literature, this title is essential for scholars who are interested in Hughes's work and the Harlem Renaissance." 

The book employs the Family Systems Theory method in order to reach an understanding of Hughes and the relationship he had with his mother. 

According to thefreedictionary.com, “family systems theory views the family as a dynamic, interactive unit that undergoes continual evolvement in structure and function. There are subsystems that are discrete units (such as mother-father, sister-brother, and mother-child) and there is a suprasystem (the community). The main functions of the family are considered to be support, regulation, nurturance, and socialization; specific aspects of the functions change as the subsystems interact with the suprasystem.” 

Williams said of Carrie Hughes, “When she was growing up, she was ‘the Belle of Black Lawrence’ and seemed happy and active as long as her father was alive, but when he died, things started going downhill for Carrie. 

“Lost in that downhill skid was a commitment to family, especially to her son Langston. One of his lifelong desires was to have a close mother-son relationship. That really never happened… We look at her letters to him and his response to her in his work. There are very clear parallels once FST is applied as the heuristic to guide understanding.” 

As for the appeal of Hughes himself to Williams? 

“I think what I love most about Langston Hughes is that he turned his back on his father’s money in order to be part of the Black community,” she said. (His father was a successful lawyer and rancher in Mexico.) 

“Hughes was raised in Lawrence, Kansas, in very poor conditions by a very strict grandmother who would not attend social events, including church, because of segregation. His father wanted to send him to Europe for a classical education, but Langston needed more. He needed people, all kinds of people, but especially Black people.” 

Looking ahead, Williams will continue to teach and write. 

“Right now I am working on my next project which is named ‘A Mother Still’ about motherhood and enslaved women during antebellum slavery,” she said. 

“I have a few books in full draft that I need to polish and do something with, and in addition to the slave narratives, I have a couple more books in me that I need to get done. Plus, I have to work for a living, so I think my plate is full and will be for a while.” 

Dr. Williams other works include “Langston Hughes in the Classroom: ‘Do Nothin’ till You Hear from Me’” and “Of Two Spirits: American Indian and African American Oral Histories.” 

Dr. Tidwell’s previous books include “Montage of a Dream: The Art and Life of Langston Hughes,” “After Winter: The Art and Life of Sterling A. Brown” and “Writings of Frank Marshall Davis: A Voice of the Black Press.”