L'événement culturel de l'été à Bruxelles!
Langston Hughes and Jesse B Semple
As Langston Hughes tells it, the character of Simple was created one day when he met a distant acquaintance in his favourite Harlem Bar - Patsy's Bar and Grill. Joining the man and his girlfriend for a drink, Hughes asked him what he did for a living. The man told him that he helped make cranks in a defence factory. “What kind of cranks?” Hughes asked. The man didn't know. How could he not know what sort of cranks he made? demanded his girlfriend. On the defensive the man replied that white folks never told Black folks such things and he knew better than to ask. "I don't crank with those cranks, I just make 'em". His girlfriend was scornful, saying "You sound right simple".
Langston Hughes introduced the world to Jess B Semple on February 13, 1943 in "From Here to Yonder", the weekly column he wrote for the Black-owned Chicago Defender. The initial purpose of Hughes' character was to encourage African Americans to support the Allied cause in World War II, but Simple came to express the more widespread frustrations, anger and disgust of most African Americans living in the deeply divided society of post war America.
Simple became a popular figure and the column was syndicated to several other newspapers. In 1950 Hughes published a collection of Simple stories called Simple Speaks His Mind. The volume sold well and was well received by critics. Langston Hughes dryly commented that "this gentleman of colour, who can't get a cup of coffee in a public place in the towns and cities where most of our American book reviewers live is nevertheless being warmly received by white male critics from Texas to Maine." Four more volumes followed between 1953 and 1965, including Simple Takes a Wife in 1953 which Hughes went on to adapt as the musical: Simply Heavenly.
When Hughes tried to explain how he came to write Simple’s speeches he said it was "Really very simple. It is just myself talking to me. Or else me talking to myself." Simple was always presented by Hughes' in conversation with the fictional narrator of the column, allowing Hughes to present two aspects of himself and of the African American experience. Boyd, as Simple's straight-man came to be known, is educated, poised yet conventional. Simple in contrast, is lacking in education and presents his fusion of down-to-earth philosophy and rich wit through a heady mixture of rural folk motifs and hip Harlem expressions. Boyd is a romantic and an idealist. Simple is a realist, allowing Hughes to confront head-on the issues of race and racism. "Negroes are advancing," says Boyd. "I have not advanced one step" replies Simple "still the same old job, same old salary, same old kitchenette, same old Harlem and the same old color.” "You bring race into everything," complains Boyd. " It is everything," states Simple.