Essay On Langston Hughes Life

For other uses, see Langston Hughes (disambiguation).

Langston Hughes

1936 photo by Carl Van Vechten

BornJames Mercer Langston Hughes
(1902-02-01)February 1, 1902
Joplin, Missouri, United States
DiedMay 22, 1967(1967-05-22) (aged 65)
New York City, New York, United States
OccupationPoet, columnist, dramatist, essayist, novelist
EducationLincoln University of Pennsylvania
Period1926–64

James Mercer Langston Hughes (February 1, 1902 – May 22, 1967) was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist from Joplin, Missouri.

He was one of the earliest innovators of the then-new literary art form called jazz poetry. Hughes is best known as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance in New York City. He famously wrote about the period that "the negro was in vogue", which was later paraphrased as "when Harlem was in vogue".[1]

Biography

Ancestry and childhood

Like many African Americans, Hughes had a complex ancestry. Both of Hughes' paternal great-grandmothers were enslaved African Americans and both of his paternal great-grandfathers were white slave owners in Kentucky. According to Hughes, one of these men was Sam Clay, a Scottish-American whiskey distiller of Henry County and supposedly a relative of the statesman Henry Clay. The other was Silas Cushenberry, a Jewish-American slave trader of Clark County.[2][3] Hughes's maternal grandmother Mary Patterson was of African-American, French, English and Native American descent. One of the first women to attend Oberlin College, she married Lewis Sheridan Leary, also of mixed race, before her studies. Leary subsequently joined John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859 and died from his wounds.[3]

In 1869 the widow Mary Patterson Leary married again, into the elite, politically active Langston family. (See The Talented Tenth.) Her second husband was Charles Henry Langston, of African-American, Euro-American and Native American ancestry.[4][5] He and his younger brother John Mercer Langston worked for the abolitionist cause and helped lead the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society[6] in 1858. Charles Langston later moved to Kansas, where he was active as an educator and activist for voting and rights for African Americans.[4] Charles and Mary's daughter Caroline was the mother of Langston Hughes.[7]

Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri, the second child of school teacher Carrie (Caroline) Mercer Langston and James Nathaniel Hughes (1871–1934).[8] Langston Hughes grew up in a series of Midwestern small towns. Hughes' father left his family and later divorced Carrie. He traveled to Cuba and then Mexico, seeking to escape the enduring racism in the United States.[9]

After his parents separated, his mother traveled seeking employment, and young Langston Hughes was raised mainly in Lawrence, Kansas by his maternal grandmother, Mary Patterson Langston. Through the black American oral tradition and drawing from the activist experiences of her generation, Mary Langston instilled in her grandson a lasting sense of racial pride.[10][11][12] He spent most of his childhood in Lawrence. In his 1940 autobiography The Big Sea he wrote: "I was unhappy for a long time, and very lonesome, living with my grandmother. Then it was that books began to happen to me, and I began to believe in nothing but books and the wonderful world in books—where if people suffered, they suffered in beautiful language, not in monosyllables, as we did in Kansas."[13]

After the death of his grandmother, Hughes went to live with family friends, James and Mary Reed, for two years. Later, Hughes lived again with his mother Carrie in Lincoln, Illinois. She had remarried when he was still an adolescent, and eventually they moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where he attended high school.

His writing experiments began when he was young. While in grammar school in Lincoln, Hughes was elected class poet. He stated that in retrospect he thought it was because of the stereotype about African Americans having rhythm.[14]

I was a victim of a stereotype. There were only two of us Negro kids in the whole class and our English teacher was always stressing the importance of rhythm in poetry. Well, everyone knows, except us, that all Negroes have rhythm, so they elected me as class poet.[15]

During high school in Cleveland, Hughes wrote for the school newspaper, edited the yearbook, and began to write his first short stories, poetry,[16] and dramatic plays. His first piece of jazz poetry, "When Sue Wears Red," was written while he was in high school.[17]

Relationship with father

Hughes had a very poor relationship with his father, with whom he lived in Mexico for a brief period in 1919. Upon graduating from high school in June 1920, Hughes returned to Mexico to live with his father, hoping to convince him to support his plan to attend Columbia University. Hughes later said that, prior to arriving in Mexico, "I had been thinking about my father and his strange dislike of his own people. I didn't understand it, because I was a Negro, and I liked Negroes very much."[18][19] Initially, his father had hoped for Hughes to attend a university abroad, and to study for a career in engineering. On these grounds, he was willing to provide financial assistance to his son but did not support his desire to be a writer. Eventually, Hughes and his father came to a compromise: Hughes would study engineering, so long as he could attend Columbia. His tuition provided; Hughes left his father after more than a year. While at Columbia in 1921, Hughes managed to maintain a B+ grade average. He left in 1922 because of racial prejudice. He was attracted more to the people and the neighborhood of Harlem than his studies, though he continued writing poetry.[20]

Adulthood

Hughes worked at various odd jobs, before serving a brief tenure as a crewman aboard the S.S. Malone in 1923, spending six months traveling to West Africa and Europe.[21] In Europe, Hughes left the S.S. Malone for a temporary stay in Paris.[22] There he met and had a romance with Anne Marie Coussey, a British-educated African from a well-to-do Gold Coast family; they subsequently corresponded but she eventually married Hugh Wooding, a promising Trinidadian lawyer.[23][24](Wooding went on to become chancellor of the University of the West Indies;[25]

During his time in England in the early 1920s, Hughes became part of the black expatriate community. In November 1924, he returned to the U.S. to live with his mother in Washington, D.C. After assorted odd jobs, he gained white-collar employment in 1925 as a personal assistant to the historian Carter G. Woodson at the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. As the work demands limited his time for writing, Hughes quit the position to work as a busboy at the Wardman Park Hotel. There he encountered the poet Vachel Lindsay, with whom he shared some poems. Impressed with the poems, Lindsay publicized his discovery of a new black poet. By this time, Hughes's earlier work had been published in magazines and was about to be collected into his first book of poetry.

The following year, Hughes enrolled in Lincoln University, a historically black university in Chester County, Pennsylvania. He joined the Omega Psi Phi fraternity.[26][27]Thurgood Marshall, who later became an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, was a classmate of Hughes during his undergraduate studies.

After Hughes earned a B.A. degree from Lincoln University in 1929, he returned to New York. Except for travels to the Soviet Union and parts of the Caribbean, he lived in Harlem as his primary home for the remainder of his life. During the 1930s, he became a resident of Westfield, New Jersey.[28][29]

Sexuality

Some academics and biographers believe that Hughes was homosexual and included homosexual codes in many of his poems, as did Walt Whitman, whom Hughes said influenced his poetry. Hughes's story "Blessed Assurance" deals with a father's anger over his son's effeminacy and "queerness".[30]:192[30]:161[31][32][33][34][35][36] The biographer Aldrich argues that, in order to retain the respect and support of black churches and organizations and avoid exacerbating his precarious financial situation, Hughes remained closeted.[37]

Arnold Rampersad, the primary biographer of Hughes, determined that Hughes exhibited a preference for African-American men in his work and life.[38] But, in his biography Rampersad denies Hughes's homosexuality,[39] and concludes that Hughes was probably asexual and passive in his sexual relationships. Hughes did, however, show a respect and love for his fellow black man (and woman). Other scholars argue for his homosexuality: his love of black men is evidenced in a number of reported unpublished poems to an alleged black male lover.[40]

Death

On May 22, 1967, Hughes died in New York City at the age of 65 from complications after abdominal surgery related to prostate cancer. His ashes are interred beneath a floor medallion in the middle of the foyer in the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem.[41] It is the entrance to an auditorium named for him.[42] The design on the floor is an African cosmogram entitled Rivers. The title is taken from his poem "The Negro Speaks of Rivers". Within the center of the cosmogram is the line: "My soul has grown deep like the rivers".

Career

from "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" (1920)
...
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
        went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy
        bosom turn all golden in the sunset....

in The Weary Blues (1926)[43]

First published in 1921 in The Crisis — official magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) — "The Negro Speaks of Rivers", which became Hughes's signature poem, was collected in his first book of poetry The Weary Blues (1926).[44] Hughes's first and last published poems appeared in The Crisis; more of his poems were published in The Crisis than in any other journal.[45] Hughes' life and work were enormously influential during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, alongside those of his contemporaries, Zora Neale Hurston, Wallace Thurman, Claude McKay, Countee Cullen, Richard Bruce Nugent, and Aaron Douglas. Except for McKay, they worked together also to create the short-lived magazine Fire!! Devoted to Younger Negro Artists.

Hughes and his contemporaries had different goals and aspirations than the black middle class. Hughes and his fellows tried to depict the "low-life" in their art, that is, the real lives of blacks in the lower social-economic strata. They criticized the divisions and prejudices within the black community based on skin color.[46] Hughes wrote what would be considered their manifesto, "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain", published in The Nation in 1926:

"The younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, it doesn't matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly, too. The tom-tom cries, and the tom-tom laughs. If colored people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure doesn't matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain free within ourselves."[47]

His poetry and fiction portrayed the lives of the working-class blacks in America, lives he portrayed as full of struggle, joy, laughter, and music. Permeating his work is pride in the African-American identity and its diverse culture. "My seeking has been to explain and illuminate the Negro condition in America and obliquely that of all human kind,"[48] Hughes is quoted as saying. He confronted racial stereotypes, protested social conditions, and expanded African America’s image of itself; a "people's poet" who sought to reeducate both audience and artist by lifting the theory of the black aesthetic into reality.[49]

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.

"My People" in The Crisis (October 1923)[50]

Hughes stressed a racial consciousness and cultural nationalism devoid of self-hate. His thought united people of African descent and Africa across the globe to encourage pride in their diverse black folk culture and black aesthetic. Hughes was one of the few prominent black writers to champion racial consciousness as a source of inspiration for black artists.[51] His African-American race consciousness and cultural nationalism would influence many foreign black writers, including Jacques Roumain, Nicolás Guillén, Léopold Sédar Senghor, and Aimé Césaire. Along with the works of Senghor, Césaire, and other French-speaking writers of Africa and of African descent from the Caribbean, such as René Maran from Martinique and Léon Damas from French Guiana in South America, the works of Hughes helped to inspire the Négritude movement in France. A radical black self-examination was emphasized in the face of European colonialism.[52][53] In addition to his example in social attitudes, Hughes had an important technical influence by his emphasis on folk and jazz rhythms as the basis of his poetry of racial pride.[54]

In 1930, his first novel, Not Without Laughter, won the Harmon Gold Medal for literature. At a time before widespread arts grants, Hughes gained the support of private patrons and he was supported for two years prior to publishing this novel.[55] The protagonist of the story is a boy named Sandy, whose family must deal with a variety of struggles due to their race and class, in addition to relating to one another.

In 1931, Hughes helped form the "New York Suitcase Theater" with playwright Paul Peters, artist Jacob Burck, and writer (soon-to-be underground spy) Whittaker Chambers, an acquaintance from Columbia.[56] In 1932, he was part of a board to produce a Soviet film on "Negro Life" with Malcolm Cowley, Floyd Dell, and Chambers.[56]

In 1932, Hughes and Ellen Winter wrote a pageant to Caroline Decker in an attempt to celebrate her work with the striking coal miners of the Harlan County War, but it was never performed. It was judged to be a "long, artificial propaganda vehicle too complicated and too cumbersome to be performed."[57]

Maxim Lieber became his literary agent, 1933–45 and 1949–50. (Chambers and Lieber worked in the underground together around 1934–35.)[58]

Hughes' first collection of short stories was published in 1934 with The Ways of White Folks. He finished the book at a Carmel, California cottage provided for a year by Noel Sullivan, another patron.[59][60] These stories are a series of vignettes revealing the humorous and tragic interactions between whites and blacks. Overall, they are marked by a general pessimism about race relations, as well as a sardonic realism.[61] He also became an advisory board member to the (then) newly formed San Francisco Workers' School (later the California Labor School).

In 1935, Hughes received a Guggenheim Fellowship. The same year that Hughes established his theatre troupe in Los Angeles, he realized an ambition related to films by co-writing the screenplay for Way Down South.[62] Hughes believed his failure to gain more work in the lucrative movie trade was due to racial discrimination within the industry.

In Chicago, Hughes founded The Skyloft Players in 1941, which sought to nurture black playwrights and offer theatre "from the black perspective."[63] Soon thereafter, he was hired to write a column for the Chicago Defender, in which he presented some of his "most powerful and relevant work", giving voice to black people. The column ran for twenty years. In 1943, Hughes began publishing stories about a character he called Jesse B. Semple, often referred to and spelled "Simple", the everyday black man in Harlem who offered musings on topical issues of the day.[63] Although Hughes seldom responded to requests to teach at colleges, in 1947 he taught at Atlanta University. In 1949, he spent three months at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools as a visiting lecturer. Between 1942 and 1949 Hughes was a frequent writer and served on the editorial board of Common Ground, a literary magazine focused on cultural pluralism in the United States published by the Common Council for American Unity (CCAU).

He wrote novels, short stories, plays, poetry, operas, essays, and works for children. With the encouragement of his best friend and writer, Arna Bontemps, and patron and friend, Carl Van Vechten, he wrote two volumes of autobiography, The Big Sea and I Wonder as I Wander, as well as translating several works of literature into English.

From the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s, Hughes' popularity among the younger generation of black writers varied even as his reputation increased worldwide. With the gradual advance toward racial integration, many black writers considered his writings of black pride and its corresponding subject matter out of date. They considered him a racial chauvinist.[64] He found some new writers, among them James Baldwin, lacking in such pride, over-intellectual in their work, and occasionally vulgar.[65][66][67]

Hughes wanted young black writers to be objective about their race, but not to scorn it or flee it.[51] He understood the main points of the Black Power movement of the 1960s, but believed that some of the younger black writers who supported it were too angry in their work. Hughes's work Panther and the Lash, posthumously published in 1967, was intended to show solidarity with these writers, but with more skill and devoid of the most virulent anger and racial chauvinism some showed toward whites.[68][69] Hughes continued to have admirers among the larger younger generation of black writers. He often helped writers by offering advice and introducing them to other influential persons in the literature and publishing communities. This latter group, including Alice Walker, whom Hughes discovered, looked upon Hughes as a hero and an example to be emulated within their own work. One of these young black writers (Loften Mitchell) observed of Hughes:

"Langston set a tone, a standard of brotherhood and friendship and cooperation, for all of us to follow. You never got from him, 'I am the Negro writer,' but only 'I am a Negro writer.' He never stopped thinking about the rest of us."[70]

Political views

Hughes, like many black writers and artists of his time, was drawn to the promise of Communism as an alternative to a segregated America. Many of his lesser-known political writings have been collected in two volumes published by the University of Missouri Press and reflect his attraction to Communism. An example is the poem "A New Song".[71]

In 1932, Hughes became part of a group of black people who went to the Soviet Union to make a film depicting the plight of African Americans in the United States. The film was never made, but Hughes was given the opportunity to travel extensively through the Soviet Union and to the Soviet-controlled regions in Central Asia, the latter parts usually closed to Westerners. While there, he met Robert Robinson, an African American living in Moscow and unable to leave. In Turkmenistan, Hughes met and befriended the Hungarian author Arthur Koestler, then a Communist who was given permission to travel there.

As later noted in Koestler's autobiography, Hughes, together with some forty other Black Americans, had originally been invited to the Soviet Union to produce a Soviet film on "Negro Life",[72] but the Soviets dropped the film idea because of their 1933 success in getting the US to recognize the Soviet Union and establish an embassy in Moscow. This entailed a toning down of Soviet propaganda on racial segregation in America. Hughes and his fellow Blacks were not informed of the reasons for the cancelling, but he and Koestler worked it out for themselves.[73]

Hughes also managed to travel to China and Japan before returning to the States.

Hughes's poetry was frequently published in the CPUSA newspaper and he was involved in initiatives supported by Communist organizations, such as the drive to free the Scottsboro Boys. Partly as a show of support for the Republican faction during the Spanish Civil War, in 1937 Hughes traveled to Spain[74] as a correspondent for the Baltimore Afro-American and other various African-American newspapers. In August 1937 he broadcast live from Madrid alongside Harry Haywood and Walter Benjamin Garland. Hughes was also involved in other Communist-led organizations such as the John Reed Clubs and the League of Struggle for Negro Rights. He was more of a sympathizer than an active participant. He signed a 1938 statement supporting Joseph Stalin's purges and joined the American Peace Mobilization in 1940 working to keep the U.S. from participating in World War II.[75]

Hughes initially did not favor black American involvement in the war because of the persistence of discriminatory U.S. Jim Crow laws and racial segregation and disfranchisement throughout the South. He came to support the war effort and black American participation after deciding that war service would aid their struggle for civil rights at home.[76] The scholar Anthony Pinn has noted that Hughes, together with Lorraine Hansberry and Richard Wright, was a humanist "critical of belief in God. They provided a foundation for nontheistic participation in social struggle." Pinn has found that such writers are sometimes ignored in the narrative of American history that chiefly credits the civil rights movement to the work of affiliated Christian people.[77]

Hughes was accused of being a Communist by many on the political right, but he always denied it. When asked why he never joined the Communist Party, he wrote, "it was based on strict discipline and the acceptance of directives that I, as a writer, did not wish to accept." In 1953, he was called before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations led by Senator Joseph McCarthy. He stated, "I never read the theoretical books of socialism or communism or the Democratic or Republican parties for that matter, and so my interest in whatever may be considered political has been non-theoretical, non-sectarian, and largely emotional and born out of my own need to find some way of thinking about this whole problem of myself."[78] Following his testimony, Hughes distanced himself from Communism.[79] He was rebuked by some on the Radical Left who had previously supported him. He moved away from overtly political poems and towards more lyric subjects. When selecting his poetry for his Selected Poems (1959) he excluded all his radical socialist verse from the 1930s.[79]

Representation in other media

Hughes was featured reciting his poetry on the album Weary Blues (MGM, 1959), with music by Charles Mingus and Leonard Feather, and he also contributed lyrics to Randy Weston's Uhuru Afrika (Roulette, 1960).

Hughes' life has been portrayed in film and stage productions since the late 20th century. In Looking for Langston (1989), British filmmaker Isaac Julien claimed him as a black gay icon — Julien thought that Hughes' sexuality had historically been ignored or downplayed. Film portrayals of Hughes include Gary LeRoi Gray's role as a teenage Hughes in the short subject film Salvation (2003) (based on a portion of his autobiography The Big Sea), and Daniel Sunjata as Hughes in the Brother to Brother (2004). Hughes' Dream Harlem, a documentary by Jamal Joseph, examines Hughes' works and environment.

Paper Armor (1999) by Eisa Davis and Hannibal of the Alps (2005)[80] by Michael Dinwiddie are plays by African-American playwrights that address Hughes's sexuality. Spike Lee's 1996 film Get on the Bus, included a black gay character, played by Isaiah Washington, who invokes the name of Hughes and punches a homophobic character, saying, "This is for James Baldwin and Langston Hughes."

Hughes was also featured prominently in a national campaign sponsored by the Center for Inquiry (CFI) known as African Americans for Humanism.[81]

Hughes' Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz, written in 1960, was performed for the first time in March 2009 with specially composed music by Laura Karpman at Carnegie Hall, at the Honor festival curated by Jessye Norman in celebration of the African-American cultural legacy.[82]Ask Your Mama is the centerpiece of "The Langston Hughes Project",[83] a multimedia concert performance directed by Ron McCurdy, professor of music in the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California.[84] The European premiere of The Langston Hughes Project, featuring Ice-T and McCurdy, took place at the Barbican Centre, London, on November 21, 2015, as part of the London Jazz Festival.[85]

On September 22, 2016, his poem "I, Too" was printed on a full page of the New York Times in response to the riots of the previous day in Charlotte, North Carolina.[86]

Literary archives

The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University holds the Langston Hughes papers (1862–1980) and the Langston Hughes collection (1924–1969) containing letters, manuscripts, personal items, photographs, clippings, artworks, and objects that document the life of Hughes. The Langston Hughes Memorial Library on the campus of Lincoln University, as well as at the James Weldon Johnson Collection within the Yale University also hold archives of Hughes' work.[87]

Honors and awards

Bibliography

Poetry collections

  • The Weary Blues, Knopf, 1926
  • Fine Clothes to the Jew, Knopf, 1927
  • The Negro Mother and Other Dramatic Recitations, 1931
  • Dear Lovely Death, 1931
  • The Dream Keeper and Other Poems, Knopf, 1932
  • Scottsboro Limited: Four Poems and a Play, Golden Stair Press, N.Y., 1932
  • A New Song (1938, incl. the poem "Let America be America Again")
  • Note on Commercial Theatre, 1940
  • Shakespeare in Harlem, Knopf, 1942
  • Freedom's Plow, New York: Musette Publishers, 1943
  • Jim Crow's Last Stand, Atlanta: Negro Publication Society of America, 1943
  • Fields of Wonder, Knopf, 1947
  • One-Way Ticket, 1949
  • Montage of a Dream Deferred, Holt, 1951
  • Selected Poems of Langston Hughes, 1958
  • Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz, Hill & Wang, 1961
  • The Panther and the Lash: Poems of Our Times, 1967
  • The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, Knopf, 1994

Novels and short story collections

  • Not Without Laughter. Knopf, 1930
  • The Ways of White Folks, Knopf, 1934
  • Simple Speaks His Mind, 1950
  • Laughing to Keep from Crying, Holt, 1952
  • Simple Takes a Wife, 1953
  • Sweet Flypaper of Life, photographs by Roy DeCarava. 1955
  • Simple Stakes a Claim, 1957
  • Tambourines to Glory, 1958
  • The Best of Simple, 1961
  • Simple's Uncle Sam, 1965
  • Something in Common and Other Stories, Hill & Wang, 1963
  • Short Stories of Langston Hughes, Hill & Wang, 1996

Non-fiction books

  • The Big Sea, New York: Knopf, 1940
  • Famous American Negroes, 1954
  • Famous Negro Music Makers, New York: Dodd, Mead, 1955
  • I Wonder as I Wander, New York: Rinehart & Co., 1956
  • A Pictorial History of the Negro in America, with Milton Meltzer. 1956
  • Famous Negro Heroes of America, 1958
  • Fight for Freedom: The Story of the NAACP. 1962

Major plays

  • Mule Bone, with Zora Neale Hurston, 1931
  • Mulatto, 1935 (renamed The Barrier, an opera, in 1950)
  • Troubled Island, with William Grant Still, 1936
  • Little Ham, 1936
  • Emperor of Haiti, 1936
  • Don't You Want to be Free?, 1938
  • Street Scene, contributed lyrics, 1947
  • Tambourines to Glory, 1956
  • Simply Heavenly, 1957
  • Black Nativity, 1961
  • Five Plays by Langston Hughes, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1963
  • Jerico-Jim Crow, 1964

Books for children

  • Popo and Fifina, with Arna Bontemps, 1932
  • The First Book of the Negroes, 1952
  • The First Book of Jazz, 1954
  • Marian Anderson: Famous Concert Singer, with Steven C. Tracy, 1954
  • The First Book of Rhythms, 1954
  • The First Book of the West Indies, 1956
  • First Book of Africa, 1964
  • Black Misery, illustrated by Arouni, 1969; reprinted 1994, Oxford University Press.

Other writings

  • The Langston Hughes Reader, New York: Braziller, 1958.
  • Good Morning Revolution: Uncollected Social Protest Writings by Langston Hughes, Lawrence Hill, 1973.
  • The Collected Works of Langston Hughes, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 2001.
  • The Selected Letters of Langston Hughes, edited by Arnold Rampersad and David Roessel. Knopf, 2014.
  • "My Adventures as a Social Poet" (essay), Phylon, 3rd Quarter 1947.
  • "The Negro Artist and The Racial Mountain" (article), The Nation, June 23, 1926.

See also

Notes

  1. ^Francis, Ted (2002). Realism in the Novels of the Harlem Renaissance.
  2. ^Langston Hughes (1940). The Big Sea. p. 36. ISBN 0-8262-1410-X. 
  3. ^ abFaith Berry, Langston Hughes, Before and Beyond Harlem, Westport, CT: Lawrence Hill & Co., 1983; reprint, Citadel Press, 1992, p. 1.
  4. ^ abRichard B. Sheridan, "Charles Henry Langston and the African American Struggle in Kansas", Kansas State History, Winter 1999. Retrieved December 15, 2008.
  5. ^Laurie F. Leach, Langston Hughes: A Biography, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004, pp. 2–4. ISBN 9780313324970,
  6. ^"Ohio Anti-Slavery Society – Ohio History Central". ohiohistorycentral.org. 
  7. ^William and Aimee Lee Cheek, "John Mercer Langston: Principle and Politics", in Leon F. Litwack and August Meier (eds), Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century, University of Illinois Press, 1991, pp. 106–111.
  8. ^"African-Native American Scholars". African-Native American Scholars. 2008. Retrieved July 30, 2008. 
  9. ^West, Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance, 2003, p. 160.
  10. ^Hughes recalled his maternal grandmother’s stories: "Through my grandmother’s stories life always moved, moved heroically toward an end. Nobody ever cried in my grandmother’s stories. They worked, schemed, or fought. But no crying." Rampersad, Arnold, & David Roessel (2002). The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, Knopf, p. 620.
  11. ^The poem "Aunt Sues’s Stories" (1921) is an oblique tribute to his grandmother and his loving Auntie Mary Reed, a family friend. Rampersad, vol. 1, 1986, p. 43.
  12. ^Imbued by his grandmother with a duty to help his race, Hughes identified with neglected and downtrodden black people all his life, and glorified them in his work. Brooks, Gwendolyn (October 12, 1986), "The Darker Brother", The New York Times.
  13. ^Arnold Rampersad, The Life of Langston Hughes: Volume II: 1914–1967, I Dream a World, Oxford University Press, p. 11. ISBN 9780195146431
  14. ^Langston Hughes Reads His Poetry with commentary, audiotape from Caedmon Audio
  15. ^"Langston Hughes, Writer, 65, Dead", The New York Times, May 23, 1967.
  16. ^"Langston Hughes | Scholastic". www.scholastic.com. Retrieved 2017-06-20. 
  17. ^"Langston Hughes biography: African-American history: Crossing Boundaries: Kansas Humanities Council". www.kansasheritage.org. Retrieved 2017-06-20. 
  18. ^Langston Hughes (1940). The Big Sea, pp. 54–56.
  19. ^Gwendolyn Brooks, review of The Darker Brother, The New York Times, October 12, 1986. Quote: "And the father, Hughes said, 'hated Negroes. I think he hated himself, too, for being a Negro. He disliked all of his family because they were Negroes.' James Hughes was tightfisted, uncharitable, cold."
  20. ^Rampersad, vol. 1, 1986, p. 56.
  21. ^"Poem" or "To F.S." first appeared in The Crisis in May 1925, and was reprinted in The Weary Blues and The Dream Keeper. Hughes never publicly identified "F.S.," but it is conjectured he was Ferdinand Smith, a merchant seaman whom the poet first met in New York in the early 1920s. Nine years older than Hughes, Smith influenced the poet to go to sea. Born in Jamaica in 1893, Smith spent most of his life as a ship steward and political activist at sea—and later in New York as a resident of Harlem. Smith was deported in 1951 to Jamaica for alleged Communist activities and illegal alien status. Hughes corresponded with Smith up until the latter's death in 1961. Berry, p. 347.
  22. ^"Langston Hughes". Biography.com. Retrieved 2017-06-20. 
  23. ^Leach, Langston Hughes: A Biography (2004), pp. xvi, 153.
  24. ^Rampersad, Vol. 1, pp. 86–87, 89–90.
  25. ^Admin_AD. "History - Hugh Wooding Law School". 
  26. ^In 1926, a patron of Hughes, Amy Spingarn, wife of Joel Elias Spingarn who was president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), provided the funds ($300) for him to attend Lincoln University. Rampersad, vol. 1, 1986, pp. 122–23.
  27. ^In November 1927, Charlotte Osgood Mason ("Godmother" as she liked to be called), became Hughes's major patron. Rampersad. vol. 1, 1986, p. 156.
  28. ^"Mule Bone: Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston's Dream Deferred of an African-American Theatre of the Black Word.", African American Review, March 22, 2001. Retrieved March 7, 2008. "In February 1930, Hurston headed north, settling in Westfield, New Jersey. Godmother Mason (Mrs. Rufus Osgood Mason, their white protector) had selected Westfield, safely removed from the distractions of New York City, as a suitable place for both Hurston and Hughes to work."
  29. ^"J. L. Hughes Will Depart After Questioning as to Communism", The New York Times, July 25, 1933.
  30. ^ abNero, Charles I. (1997), "Re/Membering Langston", in Martin Duberman (ed.), Queer Representations: Reading Lives, Reading Cultures, New York University Press, ISBN 978-0-81471-884-1
  31. ^Yale Symposium, Was Langston Gay? commemorating the 100th birthday of Hughes in 2002.
  32. ^Schwarz, pp. 68–88.
  33. ^Although Hughes was extremely closeted, some of his poems may hint at homosexuality. These include: "Joy," "Desire", "Cafe: 3 A.M.," "Waterfront Streets", "Young Sailor", "Trumpet Player", "Tell Me", "F.S." and some poems in Montage of a Dream Deferred. LGBTQQ HistoryArchived 2013-05-19 at the Wayback Machine., Iowa Pride Network. Retrieved June 23, 2014.
  34. ^"Cafe 3 A.M." was against gay bashing by police, and "Poem for F.S." was about his friend Ferdinand Smith. Nero, Charles I. (1999), p. 500.
  35. ^Jean Blackwell Hutson, former chief of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, said: "He was always eluding marriage. He said marriage and career didn't work.... It wasn't until his later years that I became convinced he was homosexual." Hutson & Nelson, Essence, February 1992, p. 96.
  36. ^McClatchy, J. D. (2002). Langston Hughes: Voice of the Poet. New York: Random House Audio. p. 12. ISBN 978-0-55371-491-3.  
  37. ^Aldrich (2001), p. 200.
  38. ^Referring to men of African descent, Rampersad writes: "...Hughes found some young men, especially dark-skinned men, appealing and sexually fascinating. (Both in his various artistic representations, in fiction especially, and in his life, he appears to have found young white men of little sexual appeal.) Virile young men of very dark complexion fascinated him." Rampersad, vol. 2, 1988, p. 336.
  39. ^"His fatalism was well placed. Under such pressure, Hughes's sexual desire, such as it was, became not so much sublimated as vaporized. He governed his sexual desires to an extent rare in a normal adult male; whether his appetite was normal and adult is impossible to say. He understood, however, that Cullen and Locke offered him nothing he wanted, or nothing that promised much for him or his poetry. If certain of his responses to Locke seemed like teasing (a habit Hughes would never quite lose with women, or, perhaps, men) they were not therefore necessarily signs of sexual desire; more likely, they showed the lack of it. Nor should one infer quickly that Hughes was held back by a greater fear of public exposure as a homosexual than his friends had; of the three men, he was the only one ready, indeed eager, to be perceived as disreputable." "Rampersad, The Life of Langston Hughes, Vol. I, p. 69.
  40. ^Sandra West states: Hughes's "apparent love for black men as evidenced through a series of unpublished poems he wrote to a black male lover named 'Beauty'." West, 2003, p. 162.
  41. ^Wilson, Scott. Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed.: 2 (Kindle Locations 22561-22562). McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. Kindle Edition.
  42. ^Whitaker, Charles, "Langston Hughes: 100th birthday celebration of the poet of Black America", Ebony, April 2002.
  43. ^"The Negro Speaks of Rivers". Audio file, Hughes reading. Poem information from Poets.org.
  44. ^"The Negro Speaks of Rivers": first published in The Crisis (June 1921), p. 17. Included in The New Negro (1925), The Weary Blues, Langston Hughes Reader, and Selected Poems. The poem is dedicated to W. E. B. Du Bois in The Weary Blues, but it is printed without dedication in later versions. — Rampersad & Roessel (2002). In The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, pp. 23, 620.
  45. ^Rampersad & Roessel (2002), The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, pp. 23, 620.
  46. ^Hughes "disdained the rigid class and color differences the 'best people' drew between themselves and Afro-Americans of darker complexion, of smaller means and lesser formal education." — Berry, 1983 & 1992, p. 60.
  47. ^"The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain" (June 1926), The Nation.
  48. ^Rampersad, 1988, vol. 2, p. 418.
  49. ^West, 2003, p. 162.
  50. ^"My People" First published as "Poem" in The Crisis (October 1923), p. 162, and The Weary Blues (1926). The title poem "My People" was collected in The Dream Keeper (1932) and the Selected Poems of Langston Hughes (1959). Rampersad & Roessel (2002), The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, pp. 36, 623.
Hughes at university in 1928
Hughes's ashes are interred under a cosmogram medallion in the foyer of the Arthur Schomburg Center in Harlem

Langston Hughes 1902-1967

(Full name: James Mercer Langston Hughes) African American poet, short-story writer, dramatist, essayist, novelist, and autobiographer.

The following entry presents criticism of Hughes's life and career from 1981 through 2000.

A seminal figure of the Harlem Renaissance, a period during the 1920s of unprecedented artistic and intellectual achievement among black Americans, Hughes devoted his career to portraying the urban experience of working-class blacks. Fellow Harlem Renaissance writer Carl Van Vechten called Hughes “the Poet Laureate of Harlem.” He published prolifically in a variety of genres but is perhaps most widely remembered for his innovative and influential jazz-inspired poetry. Hughes integrated the rhythm and mood of blues and bebop music into his work and used colloquial language to reflect black American culture. Gentle humor and wry irony often belie the seriousness and magnitude of Hughes's themes, including black Americans' ongoing pursuit—and consistent denial—of racial equality and the American dream of freedom.

Biographical Information

Hughes was born February 1, 1902, in Joplin, Missouri. During his infancy, his parents separated, and he moved to Lawrence, Kansas, where he was raised primarily by his grandmother. His mother worked as an actress in Kansas City; his father practiced law in Mexico. Following the death of his grandmother, he settled in Cleveland, Ohio, where he attended high school. His young adult years included a stint of living with his father in Mexico and a year of study at Columbia University, followed by an assortment of jobs and traveling. His first book of poems, The Weary Blues, was published in 1926 to warm critical reception, and his second, Fine Clothes to the Jew, followed the next year. He graduated from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania with a B.A. in 1929, and in 1931 he won the Harmon Gold Medal for Literature with his first novel, Not without Laughter (1930). With this literary success, Hughes decided to pursue a career in writing. Throughout the 1930s Hughes became increasingly involved with the political Left in the United States. In 1953, he was investigated by the Senate subcommittee chaired by Joseph McCarthy for allegedly participating in the selling of books to libraries abroad. He remained active as a writer and lecturer into the 1960s, and died in New York City of congestive heart failure on May 22, 1967.

Major Works

Despite his prolific output in other genres, Hughes was known primarily as a poet. He sought to capture in his poetry the voices, experiences, emotions, and spirit of African Americans of his time. Determined to reflect the everyday lives of the working-class culture, he dealt with such controversial topics as prostitution, racism, lynchings, and teenage pregnancy. Hughes also used the vernacular in his verse, drawing heavily upon the themes, rhythms, and cadences of jazz, blues, and gospel music. One of his most frequently anthologized poems, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” appeared in his first collection, The Weary Blues. His second collection, Fine Clothes to the Jew, recognized the everyday struggles of urban black Americans in Harlem who, in pursuit of the American Dream, left behind the overt oppression of the Deep South only to find their dreams denied or set aside indefinitely. This struggle is characterized in his 1951 book-length poem, Montage of a Dream Deferred. In 1959, the poet oversaw the compilation of Selected Poems of Langston Hughes. Two years later Hughes saw the final collection of his own poetry in print, Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz.The Panther and the Lash: Poems of Our Time (1967) was in press at the time of his death and, in 1973, Good Morning Revolution: Uncollected Social Protest Writings by Langston Hughes posthumously brought to public attention the depth and range of Hughes's politically controversial verse, essays, and other works from earlier in the century. Yet the definitive volume of Hughes's poetic output is considered by many critics to be The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes (1994).

Hughes's literary reputation was built not just on his work as a poet, but on his skill as a prose writer, as well. One of his most beloved fictional characters, Jesse B. Semple (shortened to Simple), was a stereotypical poor man living in Harlem, a storyteller eager to share his tales of trouble with a writer-character named Boyd, in exchange for a drink. Through the popular tales of Jesse B. Semple, Hughes offered astute commentary on the problems of being a poor black man in a racist society. The stories first appeared in his columns in the Chicago Defender and the New York Post; many were later published in book form, in collections including Simple Speaks His Mind (1950), Simple Takes a Wife (1953), Simple Stakes a Claim (1957), and Simple's Uncle Sam (1965).

Hughes published a variety of books about African American culture for young readers, including The First Book of Negroes (1952), Famous American Negroes (1954), and Fight for Freedom: The Story of the NAACP (1962). He also published two volumes of autobiography: The Big Sea in 1940, and I Wonder as I Wander, which appeared in 1956.

Critical Reception

Throughout his career Hughes encountered mixed reactions to his work. Many black intellectuals denounced him for portraying unsophisticated aspects of lower-class life, claiming that his focus furthered the unfavorable image of African Americans. His second poetry collection, Fine Clothes to the Jew, was well received by mainstream literary critics but roundly criticized by his African American peers and critics—in part for its title, but largely for its frank portrayal of urban life in a poor, black Harlem neighborhood. While some critics accused Hughes of bolstering negative racial stereotypes through his choice of subject matter, others faulted him for employing vernacular speech and black dialect in the portrayal of the Harlem streets. In response to both sets of critics, Hughes once wrote, “I felt the masses of our people had as much in their lives to put into books as did those more fortunate ones who had been born with some means and the ability to work up to a master's degree at a Northern college. … I knew only the people I had grown up with, and they weren't people whose shoes were always shined, who had been to Harvard, or who had heard of Bach. But they seemed to me good people, too.”

During the 1960s some of Hughes's younger literary peers were of the opinion that he did not fully embrace the Civil Rights movement. The increasingly strident, militant rhetoric of the mid-1960s stood in sharp contrast to Hughes's bluesy, gospel song-inspired cadences and gentle tenacity; in a review of The Panther and the Lash critic Laurence Lieberman wrote, “we are tempted to ask, what are Hughes' politics? And if he has none, why not? The age demands intellectual commitment from its spokesmen.” Yet contemporary critic David Littlejohn writes of Hughes, “His voice is as sure, his manner as original, his position as secure as, say Edwin Arlington Robinson's or Robinson Jeffers' … by retaining his own keen honesty and directness, his poetic sense and ironic intelligence, he maintained through four decades a readable newness distinctly his own.”

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