William Faulkner and Langston Hughes’ letters to a middle school teacher are here

Written by Staff Writer at CNN Like many gifted young authors, William Faulkner and Langston Hughes discovered their gifts in middle school. However, for the first time ever, both writers’ letters to an elementary…

William Faulkner and Langston Hughes' letters to a middle school teacher are here

Written by Staff Writer at CNN

Like many gifted young authors, William Faulkner and Langston Hughes discovered their gifts in middle school. However, for the first time ever, both writers’ letters to an elementary school teacher have been released and can be read together in a new digital feature.

Hughes received a nine-page handwritten letter to Professor Caldwell Harper, a librarian in Washington, D.C., in 1948. It was his first book, “The Dodo,” which he sent to Harper when he was 10-years-old.

By the time Faulkner, a Louisiana native, received his letter in 1961, the “Rhinestone Cowboy” had experienced a bit of success and was nominated for a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize.

Langston Hughes’ letter to Professor Harper Credit: Courtesy EveryBook

“If I may, I thought that I should sit before you, my dear Professor Harper, and tell you of my great delight at learning that a book called ‘The Dodo’ had been read to me many years ago, and that that excitement of reading it had stayed with me to the present day,” Faulkner wrote.

“(That) ‘Dodo’ was written in ink, and that ‘pupils’ – I miss, Miss Caldwell, by the way – had dictated to an old lady for me. (H)eh, hehe, it seemed to work well then, and I am certain that it will work well now.”

Shepard Nutter, chair of the Urban Education Program at the American Library Association, found the letters at the Association’s National Conference for Kids’ Literature. He reached out to author Felicia J. Craver, who created the digital feature, and received access to the entire letters.

“As a young boy, Hughes was reading Dicken’s ‘Pickwick Papers’ and pondering his life’s purpose,” Craver said. “Ironically, he was seeking a school librarian to help lead him down a similar path, but that path didn’t quite take.”

William Faulkner in his letter to his teacher. Credit: Courtesy EveryBook

“Langston Hughes also had many dreams in childhood, and one of them was to write poems and songs,” she added. “But, for whatever reason, his writing career never took off. It seems like he felt let down by the obstacles of being African-American.”

Reading between the lines

The letters began with amusing observations about Hughes’ surroundings and schoolmates. Both authors described their childhood lives during the Great Depression and the obstacles they encountered trying to make ends meet.

“Miss Caldwell, you were a penny warmer and did my favors for a penny I wish I’d wined you down a little,” Faulkner wrote. “For if I were now in high school it may be different.”

The letters are full of playful remarks and affection, yet are laden with wisdom. The letters spark the imaginations of young readers who may also feel let down by their lives.

“Hughes taught us that we should take a second look at the world,” Craver said. “We can see that Faulkner taught us how to live, to value our lives and to read for the pleasure of it.”

Shepard Nutter notes in the video that the authors both developed a friendship during the writing of their memoirs, but never met again.

“Helping young authors find and achieve their creative potential is a priority for EveryBook,” he said. “We hope this interactive book can shed light on the powerful journeys young writers take to discover themselves and their voices.”

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