This week’s poem, “My People” by Langston Hughes, is a tribute to remarkable Maine writer, artist and teacher Ashley Bryan, who died this month at the age of 98.
Friends and admirers of Bryan remember how he began his events with a “call and response” recitation of “My People,” reading each line then pausing, inviting his audience to sing the same words themselves.
“But they wouldn’t just repeat it,” says Nichols Clark, founding director of the Ashley Bryan Center. “They would sing it, shout it, animate it!” Sharing Hughes’ poem in such an interactive way, Clark says, was a way to “bring everyone into the room.”
“Ashley’s equivalent of a prayer before dinner,” is how Caitlyn Dlouhy, Bryan’s editor of 21 years, describes her relationship with “My People.” Dlouhy recalled, “I honestly can’t stress what joy, what depth of meaning, Ashley brought to others by including them in this poem that meant so much to him.”
Bryan created his first book when he was 6 years old in the Bronx. He went on to become a master draftsman, puppet maker, storyteller, and children’s book author and illustrator, and dedicated himself to bringing the African and African-American experience to children’s literature.
After attending Cooper Union School of Art, serving on D-Day in World War II, and studying art in Europe, he attended Skowhegan School of Art and soon after set up home and his studio in the Cranberry Isles of Maine.
Since then, Bryan has touched countless people all over the world with the vibrant brilliance of his art, his vision of pride and inclusion, and his gospel for “Wake up every morning and find the child in you”.
By Langston Hughes
Loud laughter in the hands of fate—
comedians in vaudeville
And the musical men in the circuses—
Dream singers all,
God! What dancers!
God! What singers!
singers and dancers,
Dancers and laughter.
Yes, laughter… laughter… laughter—
Loud laughter in the hands of fate.
Megan Grumbling is a poet and writer living in Portland. Deep Water: Maine Poems is produced in conjunction with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. “My People”, by Langston Hughes, is in the public domain.
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