Actor to perform works of Langston Hughes at WWU

Actor and writer David Mills will perform some of the great poems and short stories of Harlem Renaissance writer, Langston Hughes, at 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 3, in the Library Auditorium of William Woods University.

The performance is free and open to the public.

Born in Joplin, Mo., Hughes was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist. He was one of the earliest innovators of the then-new literary art form called jazz poetry.

Mills’ show is no mere recitation of Hughes’ work. The performance takes the audience on an odyssey spanning five decades—from the 1920s through the 1960s.  Mills plays both white and black Americans, young and old, and male and female characters whom Langston Hughes created. 

Hughes’ work lends itself well to dramatic interpretation because Langston frequently wrote persona poems (poems in the first-person voices of people).  Mills brings to life Hughes’ black characters who migrated to Harlem during the early 20th century. Mills also sings snippets of songs from the different eras Hughes wrote about.

The show explores Hughes’ penchant for both humor and pathos. Mills dramatically interprets Langston Hughes’ contribution to modernist poetry—the blues poem. His performance highlights Hughes’ unending love for Harlem—with its foibles and fantasies, its beauty and brutality.

Hughes’ classic pieces, such as “I’ve Known Rivers,” “Mother to Son,” “Theme for English B” and “I, Too,” are enacted alongside lesser-known, but equally powerful poems, such as “Merry Go Round” and “Advice,” giving the audience a nuanced look at Langston Hughes.

Mills also performs the short-stories “Thank You Ma’am” and “There Ought to Be a Law”—where he portrays Hughes’ iconic character, Jesse B. Simple. The hilarious, ironic and little known Hughes short story, “Rock, Church,” is one of the performance’s centerpieces.

Hughes’ poetry and fiction portrayed the lives of the working-class blacks in America, lives he portrayed as full of struggle, joy, laughter, and music. Permeating his work is pride in the African-American identity and its diverse culture.

Hughes stressed a racial consciousness and cultural nationalism devoid of self-hate. His thought united people of African descent and Africa across the globe to encourage pride in their diverse black folk culture and black aesthetic. Hughes was one of the few prominent black writers to champion racial consciousness as a source of inspiration for black artists.

A cum laude economics and theatre graduate of Yale University, Mills lived as writer-in-residence in Langston Hughes’ landmark home.  He has worked professionally in the dramatic and literary communities for more than a decade.

For more information on the performance by David Mills, contact Cyndi Koonse, multicultural affairs coordinator, at 573-592-4358 or