Review of There Was a Party for Langston

There Was a Party for Langston There Was a Party for Langston
by Jason Reynolds; illus. by Jerome Pumphrey and Jarrett Pumphrey
Primary    Dlouhy/Atheneum    56 pp.
10/23    9781534439443    $18.99
e-book ed  9781534439450    $10.99

An intriguing photograph of writers Maya Angelou and Amiri Baraka dancing at a party at the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is the springboard for Reynolds’s first (traditional) picture book. In 1991, people in Harlem gathered to celebrate the grand opening of the Langston Hughes Auditorium and the literary brilliance of its namesake. At the “fancy-foot, get-down, all-out bash,” guests boogie to the beats and bops of music as renowned word-makers are pictured leaning in from the spines of books on the shelves, captivated by the dazzling whirlwind of excitement. The master poet, Langston Hughes, was called “the ‘word-making king.’” He “could make the word America look like two friends making pinky promises to be cool, to be true” and turn words into laughter, “bringing joy to the little and the big.” In his own evocative and kinetic style of word-making, Reynolds exudes reverence for Langston and the festive tempo of the occasion. The Pumphreys’ vibrant illustrations, created with digitized handmade stamps, extend the theme of wordsmithing in creative interpretations of text, as in the double-page spread of Angelou and Baraka dancing with the letters of their first names forming the shape of their bodies. A jubilant tribute to the enduring legacy of one of the most prominent voices of the Harlem Renaissance and others whom he has inspired.

From the November/December 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Pauletta Brown Bracy
Pauletta Brown Bracy is professor of library science at North Carolina Central University. She is chair of the 2015-2017 Coretta Scott King Book Awards committee and serves on the 2017 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards committee.

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