Who is Langston Hughes?

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“The night is beautiful, So the faces of my people. The stars are beautiful, So the eyes of my people. Beautiful, also, is the sun. Beautiful, also, are the souls of my people.” (Langston Hughes). This is a relatively famous poem called “My People” written by Langston Hughes; in this poem he specifically indicates how he is very much proud of his ethnicity and his black culture. He describes his people as beautiful and directly relates them to being similar to a beautiful night, stars, and the sun. Hughes was considerably known as a poet, short story writer, and play writer which captured the atmosphere of the blacks in America during his life time. Langston Hughes centered all his work on the black culture and the struggle of an everyday black person during the 20’s and on into the 60’s. He proved this with many pieces of writing throughout his career.

James Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri where he did not stay long. His parents were James Nathaniel and Carrie Mercer Langston Hughes, who had quickly separated after Hughes’s birth (“James Langston Hughes”, DISCovering Authors). Hughes’s father had left United States shortly after the separation he decided to settle in Mexico, where he lived the rest of his life as a well-off landowner. After the separation Hughes and his mother had moved to both Lawrence, Kansas and Cleveland, where he was raised for the majority of his child hood. Hughes had written a lot of pieces of work that had to do with blacks in his early years during his career (“Langston Hughes American Cultural Leaders). Upon graduating from High School Hughes went to Mexico with his father, where he taught English for a year. During this time he was busy writing poems and pieces for publicity in the Crisis. The Crisis, which was the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was designed for intellectual African Americans (“James Langston Hughes”, DISCovering Authors). Soon after living in Mexico he enrolled in Colombia University which was located in New York, New York. While there he took interest into many English Literature courses. Subsequently after his first year in Colombia University Hughes dropped out and started working for any job he could get so he could support himself and his mother, who had recently moved to Harlem, New York at the time. Meanwhile during this time Hughes had published several poems in the Crisis, which got somewhat of publicity (“Langston Hughes”, American Cultural Leaders).

While living in Washington he was still continuously writing poetry while working many low paying jobs. In 1925 Hughes’s verses from his poetry had won him several literary prizes from both Opportunity magazine and the Crisis. While Hughes was working as a busboy in a hotel in Washington, he had put three of his own poems on a table beside Vachel Lindsay. Soon after Lindsay had read Hughes’s to an audience he announced that he had found a “Negro busboy poet.” Day’s later reporters were eagerly greeting Hughes at his work to hear more of his work (“James Langston Hughes”, DISCovering Authors).

After his publicity he decided to create his first book, with the help of a fellow critic Carl Van Vechten. Hughes published his first book called “The Weary Blues”. His book was a collection of poems that reflected the Harlem nightlife. Example of these poems that spoke of Harlem were “Jazzonia”, “Cabaret”, and “The Weary Blues”. Although his book focused on the Harlem night scene it also incorporated a variety of other topics like racial conflicts and his travels to Africa and Europe. Examples of these are “Jester” and “Mother to Son”. One of the most famous poems that were a part of “The Wear Blues” was “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” which he wrote following his graduation at Central High School. This poem spoke about the struggle of African Americans, which later was very popular towards other writers of the Harlem Renaissance and became a big inspiration to civil right leaders during the Civil Rights era (“Langston Hughes”, American Cultural Leaders).
In 1927, Hughes and other writers founded “Fire”, a literacy journal totally devoted to African-American culture. The journal was short-lived however, and ironically a fire destroyed the editorial offices. Then in the spring of 1927, Hughes published his second collection of verse called “The Fine Clothes to the Jew” (1927) (“Langston Hughes”, Wikipedia). In this collection of poems he chose to reflect Harlem’s lower class as his focus. This particular focus on Harlem’s lower class raised a good amount of question from several leading black critics and intellectuals. They felt that Hughes depiction of the Harlem was very much demeaning to African Americans. Hughes spoke of various unsavory activities such as crap games and street brawls. The idea was that because of the imagery Hughes included in his book, that it would undermine efforts to improve racial relations (“Langston Hughes”, The Poetry Foundation).

During the early 30’s Hughes began to create the majority of his short stories, and in 1943 one of his stories was in the black-owned “Chicago Defender” newspaper. He started creating a series of short stories called “The Simple Stories”, which focused on point of view of an everyday Blackman who sees shallowness and phoniness of white and blacks. Examples of these stories are “Simple Speaks His Mind”(1950), “Simple Takes a Wife”(1953), “Simple Stakes a Claim(1957), and “Simple’s Uncle Same”(1965). Although Langston Hughes is well-known for his poetry and short stories, he was also involved in theater. His theater work was predominantly popular with black audiences. Hughes helped to found many theaters in many different cities like the Harlem Suitcase Theater, the Los Angeles Negro Arts Theater, and the Skyloft Players of Chicago (“James Langston Hughes”, DISCovering Authors).

With a long time period of making short stories and producing numerous plays, Hughes was ready to return to writing poetry in the late 30’s. Soon enough he had completed yet another collection of verse called “In Montage of a Dream Deferred” (1951). This collection of poems was much different in a way than his previous collections. The poems were centered on how Harlem in the 50’s is not what it used to be in the 20’s and how the blacks there had changed drastically in culture over time. Instead of the familiar smooth and gentle blues music from the 20’s black culture that was once the highlight in Harlem, was suddenly replaced with postwar jazz and bebop (“Langston Hughes”, American Cultural Leaders). Ten years later Hughes had created another collection of poems called “Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz” (1961), these poems focused on the political problems during the early 60’s. Many of the topics were about civil rights for the black community and in one poem civil right leader Martin Luther King was portrayed as a newly elected governor of Georgia where he fought to desegregate public schools (“James Langston Hughes”, DISCovering Authors).

In the late 60’s Hughes created his final collection of verse called “The Panther and the Lash: Poems of Our Times” (1967). This collection of poems was centered on the race relations within America which expressed the bitterness between blacks and whites during the 60’s. Examples of these are “Black Panther” and “The Backlash Blues”. Many critics believed this was a good ending to his career because he ended it just as he started it, expressing the struggle of blacks in America during his time (“Langston Hughes Bigography”, Famous Poets and Poems).

Langston Hughes is known as one of the most contributing African Americans to help create the black culture that existed from the 20’s to the 60’s. He contributed to three well known eras during his career; they were the Harlem Renaissance, The Great Depression, and the early Civil Rights era. The era of which he is known for the most is definitely the Harlem Renaissance where blues and jazz music was a influential part of his writing during the 20’s. His writings during the 20’s were definitely one of his best because that is what got him very famous. Langston Hughes is an African American icon whose legacy will always live and will continue to influence young poets for a long time.


Worked Cited

“(James) Langston Hughes.” DISCovering Authors. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Gale Student. Resources In Context. Web. 20 Mar. 2012
“Langston Hughes.” American Cultural Leaders. 2001. eLibrary. Web. 20 Mar. 2012
"Langston Hughes." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 04 July 2012. Web. 16 Mar. 20. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Langston_Hughes>.
"Langston Hughes." : The Poetry Foundation. Web. 20 Mar. 2012. <http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/langston-hughes>.
"Langston Hughes Biography." Famous Poets and Poems. Web. 20 Mar. 2012. <http://famouspoetsandpoems.com/poets/langston_hughes/biography>.





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