By Lam Ho
On February 26, Dr. David Chioni Moore of Macalester College gave a lecture called “Racial Paradise in Central Asia, or Forced Famine in Soviet Ukraine: Langston Hughes, the ‘Atlanta Girls,’ and a Chance Encounter, 1932.” First, he began his talk with a thank you to his hosts. “Sewanee is a place as gracious as they say.” Moore went on to establish the topic of his lecture, which did not revolve around Langston Hughes himself: “My paper here today focuses not on any of his writing, but rather a deeply intriguing piece of [a] memoir, which was never published: I Wonder as I Wander,” he explained.
Moore, with unique and fascinating evidence he pieced together from old newspaper articles and the few details given by Langston Hughes, uncovered the backgrounds of two mysterious women Hughes met on his trip to the Soviet Union. Traveling as a “celebrated poet and a member of an oppressed class in America,” Moore explained, Hughes was able to capture the atmosphere of the Soviet Union in 1932 and 1933.In his description of the lecture, Moore also credits collaborators and Macalester graduates Kaija Bergen and Taryn Valley for contributing to the research that went into solving the mystery of the two affluent women Hughes met during his time in Soviet Russia.
Alva Christiansen and Mary de Give, as Hughes describes them in his memoir, were “writing left-wing essays for the Moscow Daily Worker by day and right-wing anti-Soviet coverage for the Chicago Tribune.” The curious pair was, of course, caught soon after and sent back to America. By looking into old newspaper articles, Moore was able to piece together the identities of these mysterious women and figure out that they in fact saw in Hughes much more than his color; “staying at the same hotel with us was,” as the two women wrote, “a young, colored radical writer, Langston Hughes… studying the national minority’s question as it was being solved in Soviet Russia today… He was thoroughly enjoying life.”