This is Bryan’s well-worn copy of the Selected Poems of Langston Hughes. Bryan often began events, such as talks and readings, by reciting Hughes’s poem “My People” (first published as “Poem” in 1923) and encouraging his audiences to repeat it to him in a call-and- response format.
Sandy Campbell: Ashley’s recitations of Hughes’s poem “My People,” like this one, were a way to both make sure audiences were fully engaged – with their bodies as well their minds – and to help make Hughes’s poems part of people’s memories. Ashley memorized many poems, a skill he learned in elementary school, and the library in his head was an essential source that he could draw on throughout his life.
Ashley Bryan: And I begin with a poem by a wonderful black American poet and I ask everyone to say it because in this poem, he tells you, that you love who you are, and that you love your people. So I teach everyone this poem, everyone, “My People” by Langston Hughes: The night is beautiful. So the faces of my people. The stars are beautiful. So the eyes of my people. Beautiful also is the sun. Beautiful also are the souls of my people.