Author Essay Langston Hughes

BIOGRAPHY:

Langston Hughes faced many difficulties during his childhood. Born James Mercer Langston Hughes, his parents separated after his birth, leaving him in the care of his grandmother, Mary Patterson Langston. According to R. Baird Shuman, Hughes’ mother’s ambitions often kept her away from him, as she moved frequently to find jobs, and his father distanced himself from the young writer. Despite this, Hughes, under the care of his grandmother, familiarized himself with literature and art, particularly books and music. Despite his youth, he was passionate about his heritage, racial oppression and the importance of family. Martin Summer observes that Hughes was individualistic and fiercely independent from an early age.

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Hughes’ furthered his interest in poetry at school. Following the death of his grandmother, Hughes’ mother brought him to Lincoln, Illinois, where he began writing poetry regularly (BHS). Hughes was nominated Class Poet, and was recognized by his peers as a talented writer. He continued to Central High School, where his poetry was featured in the school magazine. Despite his mother’s relocation from Lincoln to Chicago, Hughes chose to remain at Central High School, nurturing his passion for literature and poetry.

Around this time, Hughes reconnected with his father again. Summer describes the relationship between Hughes and his father as volatile. The two attempted reconciliation in Mexico City in 1920, where his father was managing an American company. Disregarding his father’s request to pursue a career in engineering, Hughes relocated to New York City, where he enrolled in Columbia University. Hughes’ time at Columbia was brief, as he decided to acquire a more worldly education.

Hughes took time to explore the world and matured from his experiences. He traveled the world, taking jobs such as a seaman during his expeditions on the African Coast, and as a kitchen worker in Paris. It was during this period of time, Shuman explains, that Hughes published I Wonder as I Wander, an autobiography depicting his travels around the world. Hughes returned to Washington, D.C., reconnecting with his mother. He also reenrolled in Lincoln University, receiving a liberal arts degree in 1930.

Hughes was able to accomplish multitudes before his death in 1967. Despite his financial hardships during the Great Depression, Shuman comments that Hughes worked on multiple Broadway productions, was employed at the Office of Civil Defense during World War II, and even spread his ideas to the next generation through a number of children’s poetry books. His work as a Harlem Renaissance leader made him famous, as he wrote about social issues and the Harlem everyman (729). Hughes was appointed as a cultural emissary by the U.S. State Department, due to his prominence in literature. He died a respected author and reformer on May 22, 1967, his reputation having grown on an international scale.

BIG PICTURE:

Femi Lewis associates Hughes with other writers of the Harlem Renaissance, including Zora Neale Hurston, Jessie Redmon Fauset, Joseph Seamon Cotter Jr., and Claude McKay. He characterizes Hughes as one of the most prominent writers of the Harlem Renaissance, believing that Hughes’ use of the everyday lives of African-Americans, is what makes his writing so successful. Lewis states that [Hughes’] discussion of themes such as assimilation, alienation, pride, and unity has impacted and influenced society, [creating] lasting stories.

Hughes is celebrated and recognized by the simplicity and efficacy of his words. His work as a Harlem Renaissance leader, political activist and peace advocate was recognized across the globe. His words inspired many and its effect can be seen in Renee Watson’s piece for The New York Times:

When my English teacher introduced her poetry unit, using Langston Hughes as the first poet, my spirit leapt for joy just as it did at church. I recognized the vernacular in his poems. I knew that mother who told her son that life for her had been no crystal stair. I understood the stench of rotting dreams, I knew the longing of a people wanting America to make good on its promise. When Hughes called his people beautiful like the night sky, my grandpa and cousins and neighbors came to mind. I said amen in that classroom for the first time. The lesson spoke directly to me, about me.

This excerpt highlights the effectiveness of the simplicity of Hughes’ expressions. Stating how the realistic aspect of his work resonated with her, Watson personifies her teacher’s lesson, explaining how she could understand and relate to what Hughes was trying to explain. He provided clarity to many others, like Watson, by invoking strong messages through ordinary mediums.

Despite his unaccommodating childhood, Langston Hughes managed to become one of the most prominent and well-respected American writers in history. His pieces on social injustice and the lives of Harlem residents have influenced many African-Americans, and have impacted society greatly. Watson states: I hope we dig into his work, as we do Scripture, and find something that speaks to us, pushes us past comfort, makes us say amen. Readers will find themselves sympathizing with Hughes’ words, as his work subtly explains the importance of cultural pride. Hughes’ legacy is remembered through his poems and books, as well as the many generations he inspired, and will shape society for the better.

Works Cited

  1. Langston Hughes. Greatest American Writers: Twentieth Century, edited by R. Baird Shuman, Vol. 6, Marshall Cavendish, 2002, pp. 729-745
  2. BHS. Langston Hughes. Black History Now: Black History Biographies from the Black Heritage Commemorative Society. 28 Jul. 2011. www.blackhistorynow.com/langston-hughes/. Accessed 3 Nov. 2018. Web.
  3. Summers, Martin. Hughes, Langston (1902-1967). The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed. 19 Jan. 2008. www.blackpast.org/aah/hughes-langston-1902-1967. Accessed 3 Nov. 2018. Web.
  4. Kinzer, Stephen. For a Poet, Centennial Appreciation. The New York Times. 14 Feb. 2002. www.nytimes.com/2002/02/14/books/for-a-poet-centennial-appreciation.html Accessed 3 Nov. 2018. Web.
  5. Langston Hughes. The Poetry Archive. 1 Dec. 2005. https://www.poetryarchive.org/poet/langston-hughes. Accessed 3 Nov. 2018. Web.
  6. Lewis, Femi. 5 Writers of the Harlem Renaissance. ThoughtCo. Updated 5 Sep. 2018. https://www.thoughtco.com/writers-of-the-harlem-renaissance-45326. Accessed 3 Nov. 2018. Web.
  7. Watson, Renee. Remember Langston Hughes’s Anger Alongside His Joy. The New York Times. The New York Times. 1 Feb. 2018. www.nytimes.com/2018/02/01/opinion/langston-hughes-birthday.html Accessed 3. Nov. 2018. Web.
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Author Essay Langston Hughes. (2019, Oct 30). Retrieved May 24, 2022 , from
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