Which Sin to Bear?: Authenticity and Compromise in Langston Hughes

This book explores Langston Hughes's efforts to mediate problems of identity and ethics he faced as an African-American professional writer and intellectual. Determined on a literary career at a time when no African American had yet been able to live off his or her writing; constrained by poverty, racism, and lack of opportunity; and pressed by the hopes, expectations, and demands of readers and critics of all stripes, Hughes had to rely on his dexterity as a mediator among competing positions in order to preserve his art, his integrity, and his unique status as the literary voice of ordinary African Americans. Issues treated include Hughes's interventions in the shifting definition of authentic blackness, his work toward a socially effectual discourse of racial protest, his involvement with liberal politics, his ambivalence toward moral compromise even as he engaged in it, and the imprint of all these matters in texts ranging from his poetry and fiction to his essays and newspaper columns. The conflicting facts, varied experiences, divided impulses, and thorny compromises of his own life led Hughes to develop artistically an inclusive vision of the black community that anticipates by several decades what many cultural critics have come to advocate. The book is also the first to analyze Hughes's executive-session testimony before Joseph McCarthy's Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which was treated as classified information for fifty years before finally being released to the public in 2003.