The Sweet Flypaper of Life, 1955
Author: Roy Decarava and Langston Hughes
Publisher: Simon and Schuster, New York
Paper size: 7 x 41 in (180 x 125 mm), 98 pp
141 B&W photographs
Text by Langston Hughes
About the book:
Roy DeCarava had received a Guggenheim Fellowship to photograph life in Harlem in 1953. After being turned down by several publishers, he embarked on a collaboration with the writer Langston Hughes, the leading black writer and a prime mover in the 'Second Harlem Renaissance'. Sweet Flypaper was published not as an out-and-out social documentary book, but with DeCarava's 'real life' images illustrating a fictional text by Hughes about life in Harlem.
The most significant feature of The Sweet Flypaper of Life (apart from its great title) is not its indeterminate status as fact, fiction, or even 'faction', but that a leading mainstream publisher took the chance of publishing a view of a minority community from the 'inside.' The fictional format enables DeCarava and Hughes to be positive, without the necessity to make claims for the all-inclusiveness of their view. In what seems an implicit criticism of so much social documentary - especially that dealing with minorities - Hughes makes their aims clear on the jacket of the original hardback edition (also published in 1955): 'We've had so many books about how bad life is. Maybe it's time to have one about how good it is.'