(JAMES) LANGSTON HUGHES
A central figure of the Harlem Renaissance, the flowering of
African-American culture in 1920's and 30's, Missouri-born Langston Hughes used his poetry,
novels, plays, and essays to champion his people and voice his concerns about race and social
His youth was marked by poverty, the separation of his parents--his father emigrated to Mexico
where Hughes would later visit--a matriarchal, church-going education, and a nomadic series of
moves that would eventually bring him to New York City in 1921. There, with some money sent by
his father, he enrolled in Columbia University, wrote his first verse, and began to publish in
THE CRISIS, the historic magazine of the N.A.A.C.P., founded by W.E.B. DuBois.
When funds for continuing college dried up, Hughes moved to Harlem at the height of its golden era.
For the remainder of the decade he would associate with all her prominent figures-- DuBois,
Countee Cullen, Zora Neale Hurston, Alain Locke, Jessie Redmon Fauset, Jean Toomer, Arna Bontemps,
and Carl Van Vechten; receive patronage from the formidable but controlling Charlotte Mason;
make voyages of self-discovery to Africa and Europe, and return to the States with a freer,
more confident vision of his own identity as an African-American, an artist, a
leftist--(he would later spend some time in Russia and answer for it in the McCarthy Hearings),
and a homosexual.
Hailed as the
Negro Poet Laureate
His prolific literary career was launched in 1926 with a volume of jazz poems, THE WEARY BLUES,
written for performance with musical accompaniment in the famous Harlem clubs of the era.
It captured both the Opportunity Prize and the prestigious Spingarn Award and financed for
Hughes the completion of his university education at Lincoln, PA. Among his many poetry titles
THE NEGRO MOTHER (1931), THE DREAM KEEPER (1932), and MONTAGE OF A DREAM DEFERRED
(1951) argue passionately a belief in human equality, a wish for color-blind brotherhood,
and a growing disillusionment with the American dream. His novel TAMBOURINES TO GLORY (1958)
appeared as a musical play (1963), and his two volumes of autobiography THE BIG SEA and I WONDER
AS I WANDER, together with his essay about his involvment with the N.A.A.C.P. and the Civil Rights
Movement, FIGHT FOR FREEDOM, chart Hughes' long commitment to comradeship and equality.
As those dreams began to bear fruit in the tumultuous 60's, Hughes was lionized with
increasing frequency. He continued to devote his pen to the ideals of his youth, as
well as to take an increasing interest in the movement toward Afro-centric values for
black Americans. Hailed as "the Negro Poet Laureate", he died in his beloved Harlem on
May 22, 1967.
SELECTED PASSAGES FROM LANGSTON HUGHES' WRITINGS
MY PEOPLE (set by Ricky Ian Gordon)
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.