This essay examines the reception and reinvention of “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” in ASK YOUR MAMA: 12 MOODS FOR JAZZ. It argues that Hughes reconstitutes “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” in “Blues in Stereo”—the fifth section or “mood” of ASK YOUR MAMA—for the era of global decolonization. He does so by embracing jazz as the primary communicative context and mode of address. Hughes's effort illuminates the uneasy tensions that animate the book's differential address to black and white US readerships as well as to readers outside of the U.S. and the Anglophone world. The tensions internal to Hughes's final book-length poem owe their existence to contradictions that Hughes and his contemporaries wrestled with in the period; namely, that the articulation of the possibilities for black internationalist solidarity made them vulnerable to technological “capture” by the culture industry and the State Department. By reflecting on its status as a text mediated both by jazz and by technologies of reproduction, Hughes's later work enjoins us to read and hear it as political precisely in its redistribution of sound and sense. By design, MAMA's jazz poetics sustain alternative structures of address and anticipation that are protective of the collective possibility of reading, playing, and hearing the future otherwise.

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