This book gets 5 stars for its priceless historical value alone but there is in fact even much more to it. Nothing else in American/African-American history and literature comes even close to this volume because to date it represents the only comprehensive collected correspondence between two giants of African-American literature. That by itself is notable but possibly even more so is the span of time, as indicated in the title, covered. Bontemps and Hughes were both stars of the Harlem Renaissance but these collected letters only begin there and take readers through the writers' first-hand experiences of, and reports on, the Great Depression, life during World War II, and the thunderous rumblings of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement.
They also contain the kind of shared literary intimacies and insights you hope to find in such books. For example, Hughes writes the following to Bontemps on Feb 18, 1953:
"If you'll tell me what Dick Wright's book is like (since I haven't it) I'll tell you about James Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain which I've just finished: If it were written by Zora Hurston with her feeling for the folk idiom, it would probably be a quite wonderful book. Baldwin over-writes and over-poeticizes in images way over the heads of the folks supposedly thinking them--although it might be as the people would think if they could think that way..."
Whether or not you agree with Hughes' or Bontemps' assessments in such instances, the thrill comes from getting their uncensored straight-from-the-gut responses. This is the case whether they are dealing with literature, politics, race relations, mutual acquaintances, the development of various cultural movements, or their everyday struggles to survive and thrive as literary artists.
Their voices as presented through these letters are beautifully undiluted but powerfully informed, and therefore an invaluable treasure for anyone who appreciates the idea of literary camaraderie, loves the Harlem Renaissance, or simply enjoys checking out writers at their unscripted best.
Supporter of principles advocated by PEN American Center and the Academy of American Poets, Aberjhani is also the Choice Academic Title Award-winning co-author of the world's first Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance.