Langston Hughes published his first poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” in June 1921 in The Crisis magazine. The poem helped inaugurate the Harlem Renaissance, became Hughes's calling card, and established certain core themes of the vast body of work he would publish in the next half-century: the positive affirmation of Blackness; the deployment of a collective “I”; the catalog of place names evoking both global solidarity and historical particularity; and the use of water imagery to denote worldwide interconnection and link the world's oppressed populations to the human community. One hundred years after “Rivers” was first published, the Langston Hughes Review is devoting two issues to celebrating and assessing this important milestone in twentieth-century literature and the legacy that began with this single poem. This foreword contextualizes “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and assesses its significance on its centennial. The poem feels topical and urgent in part because it was born into a time of crisis that resonates powerfully with our own moment.

You do not currently have access to this content.