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Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes Langston Hughes[3†]

Langston Hughes, whose full name was James Mercer Langston Hughes, was an influential American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist. Born on February 1, 1901, in Joplin, Missouri, Hughes was a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance[1†][2†][3†]. His writings vividly depicted the African American experience and ranged from poetry and plays to novels and newspaper columns[1†][2†]. Hughes was one of the earliest innovators of the literary art form called jazz poetry[1†][3†]. His work continues to influence literature and arts to this day[1†][2†].

Early Years and Education

James Mercer Langston Hughes, better known as Langston Hughes, was born in Joplin, Missouri[1†][2†]. His birth date is believed to be February 1, 1901[1†][2†][4†]. However, there is some debate about this, as archived newspaper evidence found in 2018 suggests Hughes might have been born a year earlier[1†][2†].

His parents, James Hughes and Carrie Langston, separated soon after his birth[1†][2†]. His father moved to Mexico, while Hughes was raised primarily by his maternal grandmother, Mary[1†][2†]. After her death when Hughes was in his early teens, he went to live with his mother, and they moved to several cities before eventually settling in Cleveland[1†][2†].

During this time, Hughes began to write poetry[1†][2†]. One of his teachers introduced him to the poetry of Carl Sandburg and Walt Whitman, both of whom Hughes later cited as primary influences[1†][2†]. Hughes was also a regular contributor to his school’s literary magazine and frequently submitted to other poetry magazines, though they ultimately rejected his work[1†][2†].

Hughes graduated from high school in 1920 and spent the following year in Mexico with his father[1†][2†]. In 1921, Hughes had his first poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” published in The Crisis magazine[1†][2†]. This publication brought him considerable attention[1†][2†].

After his return to the United States, Hughes enrolled at Columbia University in New York City, where he studied briefly[1†][2†]. During his time in New York City, he quickly became a part of Harlem’s burgeoning cultural movement, commonly known as the Harlem Renaissance[1†][2†].

Career Development and Achievements

Langston Hughes’s career was marked by a series of significant milestones that established him as a leading figure in the Harlem Renaissance[1†][4†]. After attending Columbia University in New York City in 1921–22, Hughes became immersed in the Harlem cultural scene[1†]. He worked various jobs, including as a steward on a ship, which allowed him to travel to Africa and Europe[1†][4†].

In 1924, Hughes met writers Arna Bontemps and Carl Van Vechten, forming lifelong influential friendships[1†]. His first major recognition came in 1925 when he won an Opportunity magazine poetry prize[1†]. That same year, Van Vechten introduced Hughes’s poetry to publisher Alfred A. Knopf, who accepted the collection that would be published as “The Weary Blues” in 1926[1†].

Hughes’s work focused on the everyday lives of the Black working class, earning him renown as one of America’s most notable poets[1†][4†]. His first book of poetry, “The Weary Blues,” was published in 1926[1†][4†]. This publication marked a significant milestone in his career, bringing his work to a wider audience[1†][4†].

Hughes continued to write and publish extensively throughout his career. His works ranged from poetry and plays to novels and newspaper columns, all of which vividly depicted the African American experience[1†][4†]. Some of his notable works include “Fine Clothes to the Jew,” “Not Without Laughter,” “The Big Sea,” and "The Negro Speaks of Rivers"[1†].

Despite facing challenges and adversity, Hughes remained committed to his craft and his vision. His work continues to be celebrated for its depth, its insight, and its profound impact on American literature[1†][4†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Langston Hughes was a prolific writer who produced a vast array of works across different genres[5†][1†]. Here are some of his main works, along with additional information about each:

Analysis and Evaluation

Langston Hughes’s work is renowned for its depth and profound understanding of the African American experience[6†][7†]. His poetry, in particular, has been analyzed extensively for its thematic richness and stylistic innovations[6†][7†].

One of Hughes’s most notable poems is "Dreams"[6†][7†]. This poem, like much of his work, emphasizes the importance of dreams[6†][7†]. It presents two scenarios revolving around the loss of dreams[6†][7†]. The first stanza reflects on the possible death of dreams in an “if” scenario, indicating that dreams do not have to die since they can be nurtured[6†][7†]. The second stanza, however, references a more certain turn that dreams will take, in regard to "when dreams go"[6†][7†]. In this wording, there is no choice in the matter since dreams will go, no matter what a person does[6†][7†]. This grand importance of dreams is the focal point of the poem as Hughes advises the reader to never willingly let them go[6†][7†].

Hughes’s style is characterized by its directness and simplicity[6†][7†]. He often used everyday language and themes, making his work accessible to a wide audience[6†][7†]. Despite this simplicity, his work is layered with meaning and offers a profound commentary on the experiences and struggles of African Americans[6†][7†].

Hughes’s influence extends beyond literature. His work has been recognized for its significant impact on the civil rights movement and continues to inspire and influence artists and writers today[6†][7†].

Personal Life

Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri[1†][3†]. His parents separated soon after his birth, and he was raised by his mother and grandmother[1†]. After his grandmother’s death, he and his mother moved to several cities before settling in Cleveland[1†].

Hughes had a complex ancestry. Both of his paternal great-grandmothers were enslaved Africans, and both of his paternal great-grandfathers were white slave owners in Kentucky[1†][3†]. One of these men was Sam Clay, a Scottish-American whiskey distiller of Henry County, said to be a relative of statesman Henry Clay[1†][3†]. The other was Silas Cushenberry, a slave trader of Clark County[1†][3†].

His maternal grandmother Mary Patterson was of African-American, French, English, and Native American descent[1†][3†]. One of the first women to attend Oberlin College, she married Lewis Sheridan Leary, also of mixed-race descent[1†][3†]. In 1859, Leary joined John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry in West Virginia, where he was fatally wounded[1†][3†]. Ten years later, in 1869, the widow Mary Patterson Leary married again, into the elite, politically active Langston family[1†][3†].

Hughes became a prolific writer at an early age[1†][3†]. He moved to New York City as a young man, where he made his career[1†][3†]. He graduated from high school in Cleveland, Ohio, and soon began studies at Columbia University in New York City[1†][3†]. Although he dropped out, he gained notice from New York publishers, first in The Crisis magazine and then from book publishers, and became known in the creative community in Harlem[1†][3†]. He eventually graduated from Lincoln University[1†][3†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Langston Hughes was a defining figure of the 1920s Harlem Renaissance[4†][1†]. Known as a poet of the people, his work focused on the everyday lives of the Black working class, earning him renown as one of America’s most notable poets[4†]. His writings, which ranged from poetry and plays to novels and newspaper columns, vividly depicted the African American experience[4†][1†].

Hughes’s influence extended beyond his lifetime. His innovative literary contributions, particularly his invention of jazz poetry, continue to resonate[4†][1†]. He made the African American experience the subject of his writings, which continues to inspire and influence writers today[4†][1†].

Hughes’s legacy is not just in his writing, but also in his impact on the Harlem Renaissance and his role in shaping American literature[4†][1†]. His work continues to be celebrated for its depth, its insight, and its profound effect on literature[4†][1†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Britannica - Langston Hughes: American poet [website] - link
  2. Biography - Langston Hughes [website] - link
  3. Wikipedia (English) - Langston Hughes [website] - link
  4. History - Langston Hughes - Career, Poems & Legacy [website] - link
  5. Poetry Foundation - Langston Hughes [website] - link
  6. LitCharts - Dreams Poem Summary and Analysis [website] - link
  7. Poem Analysis - Dreams [website] - link
  8. ThoughtCo - Biography of Langston Hughes, Poet, Key Figure in Harlem Renaissance [website] - link
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