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Langston Hughes National Poetry Project, Speaking of Rivers: Taking Poetry to the People

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This project began as part of the centennial celebration of Langston Hughes's life and work (1902–2002). It involves a series of public poetry and book discussion programs and an accompanying website. Targeting diverse audiences and populations, "Speaking of Rivers" proposes to increase interest in and exposure to poetry as a spoken and written art, as a form of participatory democratic activity, and as a means of advancing human understanding.

Poetry Circle Sites

The National Poetry Project has recruited public libraries, cultural centers, writers' groups, educational institutions, bookstores, corporate offices, housing developments, and churches as well as internationally recognized poets and scholars, to become a part of a national effort to extend the legacy of Langston Hughes. Expanding conversations about Hughes—his life, his art, and his aesthetic vision—invites us to expand conversations about the relationship of literature to lived experience of poetry, to literacy, and about why literature can and should be accessible, without compromising its excellence. As we discovered throughout the centennial year, reading Hughes is as much a public act as a private one. He appeals to audiences of all generations, races, and nations; and interest in his work cuts across socio-economic lines. The award-winning centennial "Let America be America Again: An International Symposium on the Art, Life, and Legacy of Langston Hughes," challenged the dominant view of poetry as elitist, incomprehensible, or unappealing to ordinary people. The University of Kansas symposium represents one manifestation of the international renewal of interest in Hughes, as well as in poetry as a public art form.

Centennial Activities

"Speaking of Rivers" builds on the success of the centennial activities, especially the reassessment of Hughes's literary and cultural importance and the growing popularity of poetry by providing opportunities for reading, listening to, and talking about poetry and its role in American culture. It takes poetry beyond the classroom and the academy, brings poets in contact with larger and more diverse audiences, and helps restore poetry to a place of importance.

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