The Harlem Renaissance brought about many great changes. It was a time for expressing the African-American culture. Many famous people began their writing or gained their recognition during this time. The Harlem Renaissance took place during the 1920 s and 1930 s. Many things came about during the Harlem Renaissance; things such as jazz and blues, poetry, dance, and musical theater. The African-American way of life became the thing. Many white people came to discover this newest art, dancing, music, and literature. The Great Migration of African-American people from the rural South to the North, and many into Harlem was the cause of this phenomenon. Harlem was originally a Dutch settlement. Harlem became one of the largest African- American communities in the United States, and during the Harlem Renaissance became a center for art and literature. Many great writers came about during this time, one of which was Langston Hughes. Hughes was born in 1902 with the name James Langston Hughes, and died in 1967. He lived most of his adult life in Harlem. He grew up without a stable family environment. His father moved to Mexico, and he never really saw much of him. Hughes was often referred to as Harlem s poet (Haskins 174). Hughes had and still has a great influence on poetry.
Hughes poetry was a reflection of the African-American culture and Harlem. He wrote many poems, and continued to write even after the Harlem Renaissance. He loved Harlem that was his home. He watched it decline with the onset of the Great Depression. He saw Harlem turn into a place to be feared by many. It was a sad and dangerous place to be, after the depression. Hughes described the impact of the Great Depression upon African-Americans, The depression brought everyone down a peg or two. And the Negro had but a few pegs to fall (Haskins 174). Langston Hughes valued the teaching of children. Many of his poems are children s poems. He often traveled to schools and read his poetry. His first published works were in a children s magazine during the 1920 s. He published a book of ABC s called The Sweet and Sour Animal Book. He wanted to inspire the youth, and make them feel good about themselves. He did not only write poetry, but that is what he is famous for. Much of his poetry talks of the hardships, poverty, inequality, etc. of the African-American people. His work has inspired many people, and is read by many students and scholars. He is a great positive role model. I personally love his poetry. It describes these problems within our society that still have yet to be resolved. It opens the reader s eyes to the many disadvantages that many people have suffered through and are still trying to overcome.
Hughes writes about how the African-American people have been all over the world. In The Negro Speaks of Rivers he talks about them bathing in the Euphrates, building huts by the Congo, and singing of the Mississippi. I think that this poem is showing how these people are everywhere. That in America we act as if they are subordinate, but he is saying to the white people, look at all my race has accomplished. We built the pyramids, and we have been around as long as these rivers. This is a positive poem. It does not talk directly about racism nor puts down the white race for being prejudiced (Lauter 1612-13). In the poem, I, Too he describes how he is also part of what America is. Even if he is sent to eat in the kitchen, he is as much a part as anyone else. One day he will not be made to hide and eat in the kitchen. One day people will see that African-Americans are beautiful people, and will be ashamed of how they were treated. This poem gives hope to the black community. It makes them yearn for the day when equality will come and racism will end. Too bad that the day has still not yet come in this century (Lauter 1618). In his poem, Harlem this is addressed. He wonders what happens to dreams that are deferred. How long must one still dream of something that seems like it will never come. The African-American people have been waiting to be seen as equal for many years, yet it still seems so out of reach. His poetry seems to address this over and over again (Lauter 1619). In The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain, a young Negro poet said, I want to be a poet-not a Negro poet (Lauter 1629). It also describes how many middle class blacks tried to be more like a white person. To disown their heritage in a way and become part of white America. He talks about how they should learn to appreciate their diversity and their culture. The blacks should be proud of their individuality. He thinks that many blacks are taught by white teachers, see white books and pictures, white papers, and then want to be what they are seeing. Why should I want to be white? I am a Negro-and beautiful (Lauter 1632). African-Americans must be themselves and build a foundation for the future blacks to stand upon so they can finally be free within [them]selves (Lauter 1632). He still carries the hope that one day his people will become equal, and that they can be appreciated for all that they have done for America (Lauter 1629-32).
James Langston Hughes will always be known as a great poet who did so much to make his race move toward equality. He wrote many inspirational poems. He wanted to reach a younger generation and show them that they can be successful. He wanted the children to be proud of who they are, and to excel in literature. He was part of something great. That something great was the Harlem Renaissance. It was a time of change. A time of happiness for the most part. A time when many people realized that there were many talented African-Americans. A time for new things and a new way of doing things. Jazz and Blues became popular. White people came to Harlem to see how blacks danced,
and what music they listened to. Harlem became a very hip place. The arts flourished all around Harlem. People were having fun. This influenced many people and ways that still are around today. The influence of the music can still be heard in some of our music today. Many authors today were inspired by those of the Harlem Renaissance. It was a great time for the African- American community, but at the same time it caused fighting between the middle class and poorer blacks. The feeling of inequality still existed, but at least African-Americans were finally getting some recognition for some of the wonderful accomplishments that they have made.
Haskins, Jim. The Harlem Renaissance. Brookfield, Conn: Millbrook Press, 1996.
Hughes, Langston. Harlem. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. 3rd ed. Ed.
Paul Lauter. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998. 1619.
Hughes, Langston. I, Too. Lauter 1618.
Hughes, Langston. The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain. Lauter 1629-32.
Hughes, Langston. The Negro Speaks of Rivers. Lauter 1612-13.
Langston Hughes 1902-1967
(Full name: James Mercer Langston Hughes) African American poet, short-story writer, dramatist, essayist, novelist, and autobiographer.
The following entry presents criticism of Hughes's life and career from 1981 through 2000.
A seminal figure of the Harlem Renaissance, a period during the 1920s of unprecedented artistic and intellectual achievement among black Americans, Hughes devoted his career to portraying the urban experience of working-class blacks. Fellow Harlem Renaissance writer Carl Van Vechten called Hughes “the Poet Laureate of Harlem.” He published prolifically in a variety of genres but is perhaps most widely remembered for his innovative and influential jazz-inspired poetry. Hughes integrated the rhythm and mood of blues and bebop music into his work and used colloquial language to reflect black American culture. Gentle humor and wry irony often belie the seriousness and magnitude of Hughes's themes, including black Americans' ongoing pursuit—and consistent denial—of racial equality and the American dream of freedom.
Hughes was born February 1, 1902, in Joplin, Missouri. During his infancy, his parents separated, and he moved to Lawrence, Kansas, where he was raised primarily by his grandmother. His mother worked as an actress in Kansas City; his father practiced law in Mexico. Following the death of his grandmother, he settled in Cleveland, Ohio, where he attended high school. His young adult years included a stint of living with his father in Mexico and a year of study at Columbia University, followed by an assortment of jobs and traveling. His first book of poems, The Weary Blues, was published in 1926 to warm critical reception, and his second, Fine Clothes to the Jew, followed the next year. He graduated from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania with a B.A. in 1929, and in 1931 he won the Harmon Gold Medal for Literature with his first novel, Not without Laughter (1930). With this literary success, Hughes decided to pursue a career in writing. Throughout the 1930s Hughes became increasingly involved with the political Left in the United States. In 1953, he was investigated by the Senate subcommittee chaired by Joseph McCarthy for allegedly participating in the selling of books to libraries abroad. He remained active as a writer and lecturer into the 1960s, and died in New York City of congestive heart failure on May 22, 1967.
Despite his prolific output in other genres, Hughes was known primarily as a poet. He sought to capture in his poetry the voices, experiences, emotions, and spirit of African Americans of his time. Determined to reflect the everyday lives of the working-class culture, he dealt with such controversial topics as prostitution, racism, lynchings, and teenage pregnancy. Hughes also used the vernacular in his verse, drawing heavily upon the themes, rhythms, and cadences of jazz, blues, and gospel music. One of his most frequently anthologized poems, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” appeared in his first collection, The Weary Blues. His second collection, Fine Clothes to the Jew, recognized the everyday struggles of urban black Americans in Harlem who, in pursuit of the American Dream, left behind the overt oppression of the Deep South only to find their dreams denied or set aside indefinitely. This struggle is characterized in his 1951 book-length poem, Montage of a Dream Deferred. In 1959, the poet oversaw the compilation of Selected Poems of Langston Hughes. Two years later Hughes saw the final collection of his own poetry in print, Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz.The Panther and the Lash: Poems of Our Time (1967) was in press at the time of his death and, in 1973, Good Morning Revolution: Uncollected Social Protest Writings by Langston Hughes posthumously brought to public attention the depth and range of Hughes's politically controversial verse, essays, and other works from earlier in the century. Yet the definitive volume of Hughes's poetic output is considered by many critics to be The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes (1994).
Hughes's literary reputation was built not just on his work as a poet, but on his skill as a prose writer, as well. One of his most beloved fictional characters, Jesse B. Semple (shortened to Simple), was a stereotypical poor man living in Harlem, a storyteller eager to share his tales of trouble with a writer-character named Boyd, in exchange for a drink. Through the popular tales of Jesse B. Semple, Hughes offered astute commentary on the problems of being a poor black man in a racist society. The stories first appeared in his columns in the Chicago Defender and the New York Post; many were later published in book form, in collections including Simple Speaks His Mind (1950), Simple Takes a Wife (1953), Simple Stakes a Claim (1957), and Simple's Uncle Sam (1965).
Hughes published a variety of books about African American culture for young readers, including The First Book of Negroes (1952), Famous American Negroes (1954), and Fight for Freedom: The Story of the NAACP (1962). He also published two volumes of autobiography: The Big Sea in 1940, and I Wonder as I Wander, which appeared in 1956.
Throughout his career Hughes encountered mixed reactions to his work. Many black intellectuals denounced him for portraying unsophisticated aspects of lower-class life, claiming that his focus furthered the unfavorable image of African Americans. His second poetry collection, Fine Clothes to the Jew, was well received by mainstream literary critics but roundly criticized by his African American peers and critics—in part for its title, but largely for its frank portrayal of urban life in a poor, black Harlem neighborhood. While some critics accused Hughes of bolstering negative racial stereotypes through his choice of subject matter, others faulted him for employing vernacular speech and black dialect in the portrayal of the Harlem streets. In response to both sets of critics, Hughes once wrote, “I felt the masses of our people had as much in their lives to put into books as did those more fortunate ones who had been born with some means and the ability to work up to a master's degree at a Northern college. … I knew only the people I had grown up with, and they weren't people whose shoes were always shined, who had been to Harvard, or who had heard of Bach. But they seemed to me good people, too.”
During the 1960s some of Hughes's younger literary peers were of the opinion that he did not fully embrace the Civil Rights movement. The increasingly strident, militant rhetoric of the mid-1960s stood in sharp contrast to Hughes's bluesy, gospel song-inspired cadences and gentle tenacity; in a review of The Panther and the Lash critic Laurence Lieberman wrote, “we are tempted to ask, what are Hughes' politics? And if he has none, why not? The age demands intellectual commitment from its spokesmen.” Yet contemporary critic David Littlejohn writes of Hughes, “His voice is as sure, his manner as original, his position as secure as, say Edwin Arlington Robinson's or Robinson Jeffers' … by retaining his own keen honesty and directness, his poetic sense and ironic intelligence, he maintained through four decades a readable newness distinctly his own.”