Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes “Hughes’ efforts to create a poetry that truly evoked the spirit of Black America involved a resolution of conflicts centering around the problem of identity” (Smith 358). No African American poet, writer, and novelist has ever been appreciated by every ethnic society as much as Langston Hughes was. Critics argue that Hughes reached that level of prominence, because all his works reflected on his life’s experience, whether they have been good or bad. He never wrote one single literary piece that did not contain an underlying message within the specific work; in other words, all his works had a definite purpose behind them. Providing that the reader has some insight about the life of this great poet, he can readily arrive to the conclusion that Hughes’ life effected his works to the fullest extent, even when only breezing through Langston Hughes’ works.

Langston Hughes, “one of the most original and versatile of twentieth-century black writers” (Shirley 1), was born on February 1st, 1902, in Joplin, Missouri. When Hughes was still a baby, his father, James Nathaniel Hughes, abandoned the family and left for Mexico. As soon as she divorced her husband, his mother, Carrie Langston Hughes, a schoolteacher struggling to acquire a permanent job position, had to place him under the caring arm of his grandmother, Mary Sampson Patterson Leary. Hughes’ grandmother “helped inspire in him a devotion to the cause of social justice” (Rampersad 55), for her first husband died fighting at Harpers Ferry under John Brown, and her second husband became a fierce abolitionist. Being always a lonely child, Hughes turned to reading and poetry early in his life. Developing a great respect for writers like Paul Dunbar and Carl Sandburg, he soon began writing his own poems. Shortly after submitting a few poems to the school’s magazine editor, Hughes’ poems could be read by everyone at Central High School, a local Cleveland school he was attending.

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After his graduation, Hughes attempted to peacefully reunite with his father, who was now a wealthy lawyer in Mexico, in order to ask for money so he could pursue a quality post-high school education. After his unsuccessful attempt, Hughes returned to the United States, deciding that his faith will lie only in his hands. On his way back, Hughes wrote one of his most famous poems “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” readily admitting that he wrote the best when he was sad and depressed” (Early 26). In 1921, Hughes spent a year at Columbia University, however, just to find out that he did not make the right choice, for colleges were still discriminating regularly. Looking for jobs, he landed a position as a seaman on the SS Malone that brought him closer to his own race emotionally, by traveling to Africa and Europe. “Although he was almost constantly at sea, his poems got published regularly in African-American magazines such as the Crisis.” (Rampersad 118).

By this time, Hughes already established himself as the young star of the New Negro Renaissance. As time passed, a young, unskilled, position-seeking Hughes became a bus boy at the prominent Wardman Park Hotel in Washington D.C. After Vachel Lindsay recited three of his poems, which Hughes intentionally left by Vachel’s plate, he received slight attention from different publishers. When Hughes won his first poetry award in 1925 through a contest by a journal called Negro Life, his award winning poem got him further recognition, that would eventually lead to his first book, The Weary Blues. Soon enough, “through his poetry, from a kind and generous woman who had shown interest in his work, came a scholarship” (Smith 359).

Four years later, in 1929, Hughes graduated from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania with a B.A. Never even thinking about his young age, other authors selected Hughes to become the leader of the Harlem Renaissance, a literary circle of black writers focusing on the social problems blacks had to endure. Along with writers like Countee Cullen, Wallace Thurman and others, he struggled to prove that the great spirit or skill of writing tremendous pieces of literature lies within the white and the black mind and body. When jazz stepped into the picture, being the most popular music of that time, Hughes effectively turned a bit more toward jazz, writing his poems in a distinctive rhythm and beat. “I can not recall the name of one single person, who at the age of twenty-seven, has enjoyed so picturesque and rambling existence as Langston Hughes” (Smith 363).

Hughes also started writing short novels, plays and songs. His play The Mulatto, a tragic play about racial controversies, made it to Broadway in 1935 and stayed there for about two years after. Again, it can be clearly depicted that Hughes tried to “explain and illuminate the Negro Condition of America” (Shirley 2). Included his works were many pieces such as the novel Fine Clothes to the Jew (1927), Not Without Laughter (1930), Shakespeare in Harlem (1942), and numerous other nationally recognized pieces. During the 1930’s Hughes was lecturing all over the South, desperately trying to persuade more young black Americans to pursue their dreams.

Hughes remained unmarried for the rest of his life. He chose to live in Harlem throughout his life, so he could benefit from being among his people by learning something new every day. After being hospitalized in March, 1967, Hughes died on May 22nd, 1967. Authors all over the country preached that Langston Hughes died, but that his work and his spirit will live on forever, making Hughes an immortal poet. Langston Hughes, “the poet laureate of Harlem” (Shirley 9), wrote many poems, plays, novels and other literary works. If one reads a Langston Hughes poem, at first he does not know why or for what purpose Hughes wrote the piece. The fact of the matter is that every single creation that Hughes came up with had a significant meaning behind it.

Most of his poems speak about the constant struggle of black people in America against the societal problems. It can be portrayed through his writings that Hughes himself saw many problems of the society. His play The Mulatto, making Broadway when Hughes was 35 years old, told about a young, smart boy whose parents were of both races: white and black. Throughout this play the boy struggles within both of the societies, with no one accepting him for who he really is. Hughes intentionally wrote this masterpiece in order to present to the audience, whoever the audience might be, the real-life situations and problems of those times. One of Langston Hughes’ poems, “A Dream Deferred,” asks the reader what happens to a dream that is held back by someone or something: however, he never explicitly explains that the dream is not impossible.

Through this poem Hughes tried to show the reader that although dreams at certain times can not be fulfilled because of whichever reasons, they are definitely not unreachable. In this case, the dream which is held back is …