Picture it. It’s the mid 1990s, I’m in high school, late for the morning bus, desperate for something to read during my lengthy commute. On my Grandmother’s disheveled porch, I find a slightly sunfaded paperback. The book is Sweet Flypaper of Life, with text by Langston Hughes and photography by Roy DeCarava (originally published in 1955). I toss it in my backpack, completely unaware that:
1. My life would never be the same… I would see the world differently from that day on.
2. That paperback was (at the time) thirty years old and worth nearly 100 bucks. I would only discover its value when I attempted in college to upgrade for a hardcover. Apparently, it’s an exceptionally rare book. And I threw it in my backpack. Did I mention it rained that day?
About the book:
Essentially, the Sweet Flypaper is written from the vantage point of an older woman named Sister Mary Bradley, who’s a fixture in her Harlem community. The Langston Hughes’ text is accompanied by photos by Roy DeCarava. In the text, the woman introduces us to each person in her world, as conceived by Hughes as a means to tie together a series of DeCarava’s intimate, moody photographs. We’re let in on the subjects’ struggles as well as the hard-fought victories in their lives.
How I love this book. It captures a time on the cusp of the Civil Rights Era: a time steeped in the Electrified Delta Blues, in Joe Louis Fights, in sedans with gleaming chrome portholes, in Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan, in Miller High Life, in the smell of Dixie Peach pomade. It captures something so timeless that it stays with you…. always. I recommend you discover a copy of your own, but until you do, enjoy the pages I reproduced here for you. Jive on!