Who Is Simple?
I CANNOT truthfully state, as some novelists do at the beginnings of their books, that these stories are about “nobody living or dead.” The facts are that these tales are about a great many people—although they are stories about no specific persons as such. But it is impossible to live in Harlem and not know at least a hundred Simples, fifty Joyces, twenty-five Zaritas, a number of Boyds, and several Cousin Minnies—or reasonable facsimiles thereof.
“Simple Speaks His Mind” had hardly been published when I walked into a Harlem cafe one night and the proprietor said, “Listen, I don’t know where you got that character, Jesse B. Semple, but I want you to meet one of my customers who is just like him.” He called to a fellow at the end of the bar. “Watch how he walks,” he said, “exactly like Simple. And I’ll bet he won’t be talking to you two minutes before he’ll tell you how long he’s been standing on his feet, and how much his bunions hurt—just like your book begins.”
The barman was right. Even as the customer approached, he cried, “Man, my feet hurt! If you want to see me, why don’t you come over here where I am? I stands on my feet all day.”
“And I stand on mine all night,” said the barman. Without me saying a word, a conversation began so much like the opening chapter in my book that even I was a bit amazed to see how nearly life can be like fiction—or vice versa.
Forward to The Best of Simple, Langston Hughes