ROBERT PINKSY: All over our country, students of all races, in courses
in literature, in African-American studies, in American studies, in
various ethnic studies, are asked to write essays on a variety of topics
touching on raceparticularly on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. To
assignments, students might need to make their own, individual accounting
of the tangled sadness and triumph, genius and frustration, of race
in American history. In some ways, each student writer is challenged
to find a personal vision of that history. Here is a poem by the celebrated
African-American poet Langston Hughes, that takes its form from that
challenge. Hughes attended Columbia University in the nineteen-twenties.
His poem is called, Theme for English B:
The instructor said,
Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you
Then, it will be true.
I wonder if it's that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem,
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:
it's not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I'm what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem I hear you:
hear you, hear mewe twoyou, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York, too.) Mewho?
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or recordsBessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn't make me not like
the same thing other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
Sometimes perhaps you don't want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that's true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me
although you're olderand white
and somewhat more free.
This is my page for English B.