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CORA UNASHAMED by Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes
2.08.02
Arts and Culture:
Vertamae Grosvenor on the Legacy of Langston Hughes


Langston Hughes loved Harlem, lived in Harlem. His first works, published during the Harlem Renaissance — "The Weary Blues" were — at least in part — about Harlem.

View the Commentary
Vertamae Grosvenor
Vertamae Grosvenor
on Langston Hughes

A great many of my characters and situations in my books come out of Harlem life. The emotions in a number of my poems are the emotions of the Harlem people. -- Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes did not like long novels, cold weather, the opera AIDA, the card game bridge or the taste of parsnips.

He did like — the opera TRISTAN, short novels, the poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar, hot weather, goat's milk, jazz and lyrical lines and he wrote: "...Life for me ain't been no crystal stair...," "...the sweet flypaper of life...," "...Crumbs from the tables of joy..."

When he was the new kid at a high school in a small Illinois town, a boy in class nominated him to be class poet.

Almost all American white people at that time seemed to think that all Negroes could sing and dance and that all of us had a sense of rhythm. So I came to the conclusion that maybe poetry, rhythm, color, me a Negro, that little boy had thought he must have some rhythm to give a poem, and maybe that's why I was elected the class poet. Anyway I'm glad that I was. -- Langston Hughes

I grew up on Langston Hughes' poetry, and so did my children ...but I was wonderfully surprised: among my granddaughter's school papers I found a Langston Hughes poem in Spanish.

En tiempo de lluvia
En tiempo de lluvia
alzan sus alas de sedas
las mariposas
para contemplar
y ver retoñar las
hojas nuevas
Alegremente niños y niñas
van cantando
En tiempo de lluvia
empieza una nueve vida
empieza la primavera.

"Charlotte," I said "Did you know that in 15 minutes while riding on a train, he wrote one of his most famous poems and he was only 18?"

I've known rivers, my soul has grown deep like the rivers --Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes found poetry in ordinary places and ordinary people. He made finding poetry everywhere seem deceptively simple.

Photo of Langston Hughes courtesy of: Lincoln University, Pennsylvania, Langston Hughes Memorial Library Special Collections and Archives

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