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Queer Harlem, Queer Tashkent: Langston Hughes’s Boy Dancers of Uzbekistan

Tue, Feb 6, 4:00 pm
IMU Maple Room

Please join the REEI for Jennifer Wilson's talk:

In 1934, the American poet Langston Hughes published an essay for Travel magazine on "The Boy Dancers of Uzbekistan." Hughes had been traveling throughout Central Asia collecting material for a book on race relations in the Soviet Union and had become especially taken with Uzbek folk culture and traditions. In his article on boy dancers, bachi, in Tashkent, Hughes posits that Soviet modernization undermined local traditions that permitted homosocial activities (such as the spectacle of feminized young boy dancers in the social clubs of the Uzbek capital). Hughes’ essay on the bachi prefigures his subsequent “Spectacles in Color,” a profile of drag culture in Harlem. Like “The Boy Dancers of Uzekistan,” it problematizes discourses of modernity that rely on practices of heteronormative essentialization. This presentation will explore how Hughes situates cross-dressing traditions, particularly in Harlem and Uzbekistan, as sites of protestation against non-inclusive and anti-queer notions of “progress.”