It is not very often that a work of fiction makes me cry, but that’s what happened when I read Langston Hughes’ “Cora Unashamed,” a story in one of Hughes’ short story collections, which was made into a television film as part of the Masterpiece Theatre American Collection starring Regina Taylor and Cherry Jones. Cora is an African American housekeeper in the early 1900s isolated in an all-white town in Iowa. She must wage battle on two fronts—against the looming Depression and racism that prevails in the tiny farming community.
Cora falls in love with Joe, a white union organizer who is on the run. He is long gone before she gives birth to their child, Josephine. Hughes so eloquently captures the isolation Cora feels in the community and how her life blossoms once she gives birth to Josephine.
Description of the beautiful relationship between mother and daughter made me weep. My tears flowed even harder as little Josephine develops a persistent cough and later, Cora’s heartbreak on multiple levels.
Many of the stories by Hughes, a poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist who was part of the Harlem Renaissance, have touched my emotions. “The Blues I’m Playing,” about a young African American female pianist in Paris studying music at the expense of her white Manhattan patron is another one. It conveys powerful messages about race relations, the beauty of blues and jazz, and the black artist’s experience in the white-dominated world of modern art.
When I read Hughes’ stories, I feel that I am right there with the characters and I feel a range of emotions. Often, when I write a short story, essay, or am working on my novel, I keep Hughes’ techniques in mind and try to take the reader out of their world and into the world of my characters.
Whenever someone has read one of my works and tells me that they felt an emotional tug, I feel satisfied that I’ve provided something meaningful to the reader.