As Professor of English at North Carolina State University I can still say that Kearney feels more like my home than anywhere else. I earned both my BA (1993) and MA (2000) at University of Nebraska at Kearney and taught English nearby in Minden High School for five years in between. I completed my studies at Washington State University focusing on American poetry. At North Carolina State University I have spent most of my energies writing and researching the poet Langston Hughes and I am also proud to have co-founded with Shannon Vesely the Don Welch Teacher Conference. I have been working on a connected film Plain Sense, the Don Welch Digital Archive, which will be released online soon. ~ Jason Miller
Jason’s books on Langston Hughes address the complexity of Hughes person – jazz poetry, civil rights, sexuality and poetics. My Martin Luther King “First Dream” project made the first-ever recording of the Dr. Martin Luther King I Have a Dream speech (1962) available online at www.kingsfirstdream.com and other internet connections. His speech took place in Rocky Mount, North Carolina a full nine months before the famous delivery at the 1963 March on Washington. My project was recognized by coverage on the CBS and ABC National Evening News as well as on BBC and USA Today. I was also interviewed on NPR and live on CNN. (Interviews are online) ~ W. Jason Miller. *See excerpt of Rocky Mount 1962 speech below.
Jason is not only a nationally recognized scholar but also a poet in his own right. His poems reveal both the simplicity of our lives but also the complicated questions. “I had the distinct honor of studying under Chuck Peek and Kate Benzel while playing basketball at UNK from 1989-93 under Tom Kropp and Jerry Heuser.” We who have had him in class and on the basketball court will say it was an honor to know Jason as a student, as a player, and now fortunately as a colleague.
Backlash Blues: Nina Simone and Langston Hughes. 2021. www.backlash blues.com.
Langston Hughes established Nina Simone’s reputation and forever shaped her image as the High Priestess of Soul. Beyond his friendship and public support, the poet is responsible for four Simone songs recorded during the most pivotal years of her career, 1964-67. At the end of 1966, Hughes passes along a copy of a poem he has written asking Simone if she would be interested in putting music to it and performing : “Backlash Blues.” Hughes was in the audience at the Lincoln Center’s Philharmonic Hall on Nov. 22, 1966, when Simone performs the song for what is likely the very first time ever. She receives a standing ovation after the song is finished. *Listen to a version of song link below.
Langston Hughes: Critical Lives. U of Chicago P, 2020.
One of the pioneers of jazz poetry, Hughes led the Harlem Renaissance, while Martin Luther King, Jr. invoked Hughes’s signature metaphor of dreaming in his speeches. Drawing on unpublished letters and manuscripts, Miller addresses Hughes’s often ignored contributions to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, as well as his complex and well-guarded sexuality, and repositions him as an international writer rather than merely the most beloved African American poet of the twentieth century.
“Fifty-two years after his death, the defiance and challenge that Langston Hughes evoked on the page during his long career still retain a sense of immediacy for contemporary audiences. In this book Miller offers valuable new insights into the life of Langston Hughes and compelling readings of selected stories and poems that will be indispensable to students, teachers, as well as new readers of Hughes’s prolific body of work.” ~ Christopher C. De Santis, Illinois State University, editor of Langston Hughes: A Documentary Volume.
“Miller’s biography links the works by Hughes to the many scholarly studies that have emerged in the past thirty years. His bibliography alone is a precious tool. Miller integrates his own examinations of primary sources, and he thereby provides a brilliant map for current and future research. Readers will gain a deeper appreciation for the complexity of Hughes’s writing and his relationships—with individuals and with organizations. Indeed, Hughes was Not So Simple.” ~ Donna Akiba Sullivan Harper, Fuller E. Callaway Professor of English, Spelman College.
Langston Hughes and the Lynching Culture. U of Florida P, 2011.
Langston Hughes never knew of an America where lynching was absent from the cultural landscape. Jason Miller investigates the nearly three dozen poems written by Hughes on the subject of lynching to explore its varying effects on survivors, victims, and accomplices as they resisted, accepted, and executed this brutal form of sadistic torture.
“A comprehensive study of the centrality of lynching to Hughes’s artistic development, aesthetics, and activism. Scholars and general readers alike will find it a fascinating and indispensable addition to their understanding of the work of this brilliant poet.” ~ Anne Rice, CUNY-Lehman College.
Origins of the Dream Hughes’s Poetry and King’s Rhetoric. U of Florida P, 2016.
Miller contends that by employing Hughes’s metaphors in his speeches, King negotiated a political climate that sought to silence the poet’s subversive voice. He argues that by using allusion rather than quotation, King avoided intensifying the threats and accusations against him, while allowing the nation to unconsciously embrace the incendiary ideas behind Hughes’s poetry.
“Shows how the relationship between King and Hughes is part of a larger tradition in African American rhetoric of community, indirection, and cultural reinvention. . . . Reminds us of how marginalized groups remodel and subvert communication patterns in order to have their voices heard and make them matter in the mainstream.” ~ American Literary History. “Majestic. Grounded in astute interpretations of how speech acts function in history, this book is an exemplary model for future inquiries about the confluence of thought, poetry, and social action.” ~ Jerry Ward Jr., coeditor of The Cambridge History of African American Literature.
One of Jason’s outstanding poems influenced by his time on the Great Plains, letting us hear and see the world around us:
Telegraph Lines. Eclipse, Fall 2013.
Like clean treble clefs
they hang in the air of the plains,
barred and measured by dark towers.
Beyond the moan of the world’s
metronome, they divide the wind
into electrified vowels.
Blackbirds love these silver stanzas.
They are half notes at rest,
steadying themselves in triads. Here,
they wait, as the sun
wraps its noiseless tongue around
these naked trees. Somewhere
a hawk sinks its talons
into a cross-arm, and scans
the stilled pendulum of trapeze
with anxious eyes.
Jason’s recent research
Jason’s research was featured at The Conversation under Three Essential Reads on the FBI’s Assessemtn of MLK’s Radical Views and Allies. In collaboration with composer Carolyn Colquitt, singer Lynette Barber, and historian Everett B. Ward, Jason presented Origins of the Dream: Hughes’s Poetry and King’s Rhetoric at the North Carolina Museum of Art with musical selections from Mahalia Jackson to highlight observance of the 40th celebration of MLK Day in America. Set to air early February, Jason was interviewed by WRAL’s Ken Smith for a feature story about MLK’s speech at Reynolds Coliseum on July 31, 1966. Jason’s research was featured online at the National Humanities Center, and his scholarship on Hughes and King is currently the subject of an exhibit showing January 9 — March 1 at Yale University’s historic Beinecke Library. Featuring songs by Sandra Dubose, Jason will be lecturing and then in discussion with NC Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green at the North Carolina Museum of Art to celebrating Nina Simone’s birthday on February 21st.
Written by Jason Miller, scholar and poet, Chuck Peek and Kate Benzel
* Poem, "Telegraph Lines." Ambit, UK. Runners-Up, as judged by Malika Booker. Fall 2018.
* Langston Hughes and American Lynching Culture. U of Florida P, 2011.
* Origins of the Dream: Hughes’s Poetry and King’s Rhetoric. U of Florida P, 2016.
* Langston Hughes: Critical Lives. U of Chicago P, 2020.
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