Celebrating Black History Month – Langston Hughes

James Mercer Langston Hughes was born February 1st, 1902 in Joplin, Missouri, and died May 22, 1967, in New York City.

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Between these dates, Langston Hughes became a poet, novelist, playwright, social activist, and columnist.

Hughes was one of the primary forces driving the Harlem Renaissance – a new era in social, intellectual, political, cultural, and artistic creativity that centered in Harlem during the 1920’s.

His first book of poetry – The Weary Blues – was published in 1926, 3 years before he finished his college education at Lincoln University, PA.

In 1930, he published his first novel – Not Without Laughter.

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Hughes is probably best known for entwining concepts and realities of black life in America into his work, from the 1920’s , all the way through to the 1960’s. He is known primarily for his poetry, but he also wrote novels, short stories, and plays. He was involved with the art of jazz music, and jazz often informed and colored his writings. One of Hughes’ most famous poems is Harlem (Dream Deferred) from 1951;

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Another of his most powerful poems is I, Too, first published in 1926;

I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
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.

As well as his many poems, Langston Hughes wrote 11 plays and many other written works. He was influential in the careers of many other artists of the time, such as Ralph Ellison, and he worked alongside such luminaries as Paul Robeson in the glory days of the Harlem Renaissance.

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The brownstone where he lived in Harlem (20 E.127th St.) has been given landmark status by New York City, in his honor and his ashes are entombed in the lobby of The Langston Hughes Auditorium located in the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture, at 515 Malcolm X Boulevard (between W.135th & W.136th Streets) in Harlem.

Suggested Further Reading:

The Elusive Langston Hughes | The New Yorker, 2015

Langston Hughes – Wikipedia

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