Langston Hughes was one of the great writers of his time. He was named the “most renowned African American poet of the 20 th century” (McLaren).
Through his writing he made many contributions to following generations by writing about African American issues in creative ways including the use of blues and jazz. Langston Hughes captured the scene of Harlem life in the early 20 th century significantly influencing American Literature.
He once explained that his writing was an attempt to “explain and illuminate the Negro condition in America” (Daniel 760).
To fulfill this task, he wrote 15 volumes of poetry, six novels, three books, 11 plays, and a variety of non-fiction work (Daniel 760).
He also edited over 50 books in his time (McKay).
James Mercer Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri February 1, 1902. He grew up in Lawrence, Kansas. His life was hard when he was young; his parents were separated with little money to go around, and he was very lonely.
“Po’ Boy Blues” expresses how he felt during those times: When I was home de Sunshine seemed like gold. Since I come up North de Whole damn world’s turned cold. I was a good boy, Never done no wrong. Yes, I was a good boy, Never done no wrong, But this world is weary An’ de road is hard an’ long. Hughes lived with his relatives and moved around much throughout the first part of his life. He learned quickly to be independent.
Writing Life The book we had to read by Annie Dillard, The Writing Life, talks about a woman who has gone though various times in her life when she would be inspired by something, and she would write it down. This book wasn’t really appealing to me. I thought that Annie was going to explain how she went about writing, and what were her struggles. Instead, she starts out telling the read how to ...
During part of his childhood, Hughes lived with his grandmother who taught him many stories and life lessons. At the age of 13, he moved back with his mother and her second husband in Illinois. Hughes entered Columbia University, New York in the fall of 1921. He soon abandoned his studies and in the fall of 1923, he sailed as a steward on a freighter, the S. S. West Hesseltine, to the West Coast of Africa where he learned about African culture.
Soon after, in 1924, he traveled to Paris to work as a cook’s helper at a nightclub that featured primarily African-American performers. Experiences there inspired him to experiment more with jazz and blues rhythms in his poetry (Rampersad 286).
Leaving Paris a year later, he returned to the United States, where he worked menial jobs to support himself while writing poetry. Five years later, Hughes earned enough money to be able to attend and graduate from Lincoln University, Pennsylvania.
Later in his life, Hughes lived in Washington, D. C. where he observed prejudice towards and within the city’s black society. The upper-class blacks shunned the lower class viewing them as being “embarrassingly vulgar” (Dickinson 323).
Overcoming African-American prejudice was a major focus in most of Hughes’ writing.
For example, he wrote about the joys, sorrows and hopes of the black man in America (Dickinson 321).
Not all of his writings were so encouraging however. Other themes Hughes wrote about include lynchings, rapes, discrimination, and Jim Crow Laws. He commented that when he felt bad, he wrote a great deal of poetry; when he was happy, he didn’t write any (Dickinson 321).
At first, Hughes primarily focused on writing for a black urban audience; throughout time, he changed his focus to middle-class blacks, and then to the men and women of Harlem as “black masses.” Hughes ended up directing his writing to both whites and blacks of all classes. His basic philosophy, taken from the poem “I, too,” was as follows: Tomorrow, I’ll be at the table When company comes. Nobody ” ll dare Say to me, “Eat in the kitchen,” Then. Besides, They ” ll see How beautiful I am And be ashamed-I, too, am America. Hughes was said to have written with a sadness for the events that oppressed him, and at the same time with a sense of optimism for a better world he knew would come (Dickinson 326).
Blacks Treated as Lower Class Citizens The black community in the United States of America has always been the target of prejudice from the whites. The Constitution of America states all men should have equal rights, but instead of following the constitution whites have treated the blacks as lower- class citizen. An example that the black community has been treated as a lower class citizen they ...
For instance, Hughes fought segregation in the armed forces by writing scripts and songs for various government agencies, typically without pay (Rampersad 288).
Hughes, essentially an optimist, clung to his belief that the barriers excluding his people from the American Dream might one day be abolished (Bevilacqua).
Harlem was a main focus in many of Hughes’ poems and an influence for many of his other poems. He was very involved in the Harlem community. In 1938, to help African-American further take pleasure in their culture, Hughes founded the Harlem Suitcase Theatre. Hughes “encouraged children to plant gardens, poets and others to create, and everyone to pay attention to and learn to love the place they called home” (Bell-Russel).
By observing the humble aspects of the black culture in Harlem, Hughes drew much inspiration for his writing. He created poems that were “responses to the feelings of oppression that pervaded the lives of Harlem residents” (Daniel 764).
In 1951, he wrote a volume of poetry called Montage of a Dream Deferred, which was a “jazz-based portrait of Harlem as a community both unfairly maligned and in genuine distress” (Rampersad 288).
Hughes also helped create the manifesto for the Harlem Renaissance. In 1926, he wrote the essay “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain,” that urged black intellectuals and artists to break free of the stereotypical standards set by the white class. He wanted young, colored writers to treat the subject of race without shame or fear (Rampersad 286).
The white class viewed support of the Harlem Renaissance branching from a sense of guilt, whereas blacks saw it as re-birth and a chance to enjoy their culture (Dickinson 325).
A major figure in the Harlem Renaissance movement, Hughes was able to influence many people with his idea of black pride and African heritage. Hughes conveyed a feeling of protest against prejudice and discrimination that people were able to model (Bevilacqua).
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He also promoted a positive identity of the African American and tried to subvert the white stereotypes of “Negroes” (Martinson).
Throughout his whole career, Hughes showed creative attentiveness to black music and the “fearlessness in drawing inspiration from the most humble aspects of black culture” (Rampersad 286).
Hughes had his own tradition in blues and jazz because of the experiences he had in all the various black communities he lived in throughout his life. He used those experiences as inspiration to utilize African-American music in his writing. His poems were objective and said to be unhampered by traditional forms (Hart 393).
So many saw his poems in this light because he employed original Negro jazz rhythms. By capturing beats in the words, Hughes was able to manipulate poems to both “hide and reveal his feelings” concerning African American issues (Daniel 764).
Hughes truly was a pioneer in blues tradition, and he was said to have used the “different aspects of the blues tradition more regularly than any other poet of his time” (McLaren).
In fact, his first poem was sold as a “jazz poem” (McLaren).
Hughes was able to demonstrate that the everyday dialect and language of African Americans and the rhythms of blues, jazz, and spirituals could be made a part of the art of poetry. Langston Hughes was a very talented, determined writer and he made many contributions to African American culture and to American Literature. He wrote about African American issues that other writers were too timid to face and wrote about them in creative ways, including the use of blues and jazz.
By doing this, Hughes was able to effectively capture the scene of Harlem life. Works Cited Bell-Russel, Danna. Rev. of Library Journal, by Darralynn Hutson and Jamal Joseph. Hughes’ Harlem Dream. 2003.
Bevilacqua, Winifred Far ant. “Langston Hughes.” Dictionary of Literary Biography. 1989. Gale Group. 18 Apr.
2004. Daniel, Kathleen, et al, ed. Elements of Literature. 5 th edition.
Austin: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 2003. 760-67. Dickinson, Donald D. “Langston Hughes.” American Writers. Supp.
REDISCOVERING AMERICAN DREAM with Let America be America Again of Langston Hughes by Johanna Meneses Mr. Maza English 1102 REDISCOVERING AMERICAN DREAM Langston Hughes is considered to be one of the greatest black poets of 20th century. His main contribution was interpretation of Afro-American experience in United States since discovering of America. All his life, Langston Hughes searched for own ...
I, Part 1. Ed. Leonard Unger. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1979. 320-48. Hart, James D.
“Hughes, Langston.” The Oxford Companion to American Literature. 4 th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1965. 393-94. Martinson, Deborah.
“Langston Hughes.” Dictionary of Literary Biography. 2000. Gale Group. 18 Apr. 2004. McKay, Nellie Y.
“Hughes, Langston.” World Book Online Reference Center. 2004. World Book. 18 Apr. 2004. McLaren, Joseph.
Rev. of Research in African Literatures, by Steven C. Tracy. Langston Hughes and the Blues. Fall 2003. Rampersad, Arnold.
“Hughes, James Langston.” Dictionary of American Biography. Supp. Eight. Ed. John Garrity and Mark Carnes. New York: Charles Schribner’s Son, 1988.