As a talented American author, Langston Hughes captured and integrated the realities and demands of Africa America in his work by utilizing the beauty, dignity, and heritage of blacks in America in the 1920s. Hughes was reared for a time by his grandmother in Kansas after his parents divorce. Influenced by the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar and Carl Sandburg, he began writing creatively while still a boy.
Not only did Hughes suffer from poverty but also from restrictions that came with living in a segregated community. While he attended an integrated school, he was not permitted to play team sports or join the Boy Scouts. Even his favorite movie theater put a sign that read No Colored Admitted. In spite of these obstacles, Hughes developed a natural sense of self-confidence and hope. His grandmother always lived as a free woman and was insistent about standing up for the right of all people to be free. Under her influence, Hughes learned to endure the hardships of prejudice without surrendering his dignity or pride. (Berry 7)
My father hated Negroes, Hughes wrote, I think he hated himself, too, for being a Negro. Hughes wanted to attend Colombia University and needed his fathers financial aid. His father refused because he wanted Hughes to study engineering. Seeing his sons determination, he finally agreed to help pay his tuition. University officials were surprised to discover Hughes was black. He was discriminated against from dormitories to the student newspaper. Angered by the racism he unexpectedly encountered, Hughes began to explore New York, which brought about the most important stage in his development as a writer. Even though his father was racist, Hughes never was. He always sought to speak to all Americans, especially on the larger issues of social, economic, and political justice.He did not hide the fact that he lived with racism, but he talked of his strength, and the strength of many other blacks, to stand tall and believe in a better future. (Berry 12)
The Harlem Renaissance was a cultural and psychological watershed. It was an era in which black people were perceived as having finally liberated themselves from a past fraught with self-doubt to an unprecedented optimism. It gave African Americans a novel pride in all things black and a cultural confidence that stretched beyond the borders of Harlem to other black communities in the Western world. The Harlem Renaissance was a provocative response to the new era: an aesthetic response that transcends time to celebrate identity, creativity, the past, and the present. (Rummel 33)
Hughes accepted his vocation to explain and illuminate the Negro condition in America. His personal credo, The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain, became the credo of a generation of African-American poets. In it Hughes argued against surrendering racial pride to the hope of acceptance of whites. The urge among some black artists to be as little Negro and as much American as possible, wrote Hughes, was a mountain standing in the way of any true Negro art. Hughes poetry drew from traditional sources and individual voices; his experiments reflected an attempt to capture the myriad of colors known as black. He defined a black beauty in which he interpreted and recorded the lives of the common black folk. To Hughes, even when an ordinary person sang, danced, or worked; they were likely to be making beauty.He truly believed that these people were producing art and culture all the time, almost as if they were rainbows that had to be captured before they vanished. His interest in portraying the lives of average people angered black leaders who believed that black writers should emphasize the best qualities of blacks so white leaders would obtain a favorable impression.(Chow 1)
When he took a job as a seaman aboard an old ocean liner, Hughes marveled at the vitality and diversity of African tribal culture, but he also saw how the continent was exploited and poverty-stricken by the European colonial powers. Hughes time in Africa was inspirational, resulting in several poems condemning white colonialism or celebrating black unity and beauty. His racial pride made his poetry popular among many Africans. (Berry 21)
When he traveled to Paris, Hughes developed a love for jazz. His passion for jazz affected his approach to poetry. His skillful mixture of jazz influences in his work earned him a reputation as a jazz poet. Jazz to him was one of the most intrinsic expressions of Negro life in America. Publishing his poems in The Crisis and The Opportunity, Hughes became a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance. (Rummel 54-55)
The versatility of Hughes was apparent in his capacity to create every literary genre-poetry, fiction, drama, essay, and history. Through his writings, Hughes enhances our love of humanity, our vision of the just society with a spiritual transcendence, and broadens the horizons of joy and hope. His poetry served as an inspiration and a mentor for the younger black writers who came of age in the 1960s. (Poets 1)
My seeking has been to explain and illuminate the Negro condition in America and obliquely that of all humankind. When Langston Hughes wrote this statement, he was explaining what he tried to do over the course of his career. He created a body of work-poetry, fiction, journalism, essays, plays, and song lyrics-that reflected on the black experience and informed white Americans about racial issues. While condemning racism and the inequities it created for blacks and other minorities, Hughes called for co-operation among all races. He crossed color barriers to gain widespread popularity. His personal compassion, social awareness, and literary talent made him one of the dominant voices in American literature and perhaps the single most influential black poet. (Berry 5)
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Chow, Belinda. A Research Brief: Langston Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance.
24 May 2000. An American Reader, U of Texas. 1996 .
Poets of the Harlem Renaissance and After. 17 May 2000. The Academy of American Poets,
Smithsonian Institute. 1997 .
Rummel, Jack. Langston Hughes. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1988.