Langston Hughes


Feb. 12, 2005, midnight | By Jonah Gold | 15 years, 7 months ago


Photo: Langston Hughes, influential poet and essayist.

Langston Hughes became one of the most influential poets in American history with his extremely poignant poetry that described the lives of blacks during the early twentieth century. He was born in Joplin, Missouri in 1902 and by eighth grade, was already writing poetry. His father hoped his son would pursue a more financially rewarding career, however, so Hughes went to Columbia University to study engineering. He soon dropped out and published his first book of poetry called "The Negro Speaks of Rivers."

Hughes soon began to extensively travel around the world to places such as Africa and Europe. Throughout his expeditions, Hughes would continually listen to blues and jazz while composing poetry. His writing therefore began to gain a more metrical tone, a style which continued when Hughes moved to Harlem during the Renaissance period in 1924. Because of the artistic revival of Harlem during this time, Hughes also began to gain more exposure and success.

Beginning in 1926, Hughes began to voice his opinions on racism more clearly through prose. In an essay titled "The Negro Artist and The Racial Mountain," he stated that all black writers and poets should write whatever they felt without trying to appeal to whites or blacks. He stressed the idea that writers should display their opinions without concern for approval from their audience.

In the 1930s, Hughes began to focus on theatre writing. His play "Mullato" was the longest running play on Broadway by a black author until "A Raisin in the Sun" premiered in 1958. In addition, he wrote books and essays portraying a black man, Jesse B. Simple, as the main character. Hughes used these works to portray the daily life of a normal black citizen living in America while at the same time dealing with pressing racial issues.

Hughes became the main voice among blacks during his lifetime because almost all of his poetry and prose dealt with race. Through his poetry, he was able to present touching portrayals of how racism affected all aspects of black life and was soon able to give more coherent arguments through essays and newspaper articles. The Harlem Renaissance was fueled by Hughes' writing, which influenced not only his black peers but influential whites of the time as well. He died in 1967 from cancer.



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