A BLACK POET: LANGSTON HUGHES
He was a pioneer of modern black literature. He was praised as "one of the most influential of black writers". He wrote about what he knew best, and being black was what he knew about. He gave to black characters a reality, a wholeness that was lacking in novels and poetry before. He shared his feelings about everyday black Americans through different forms of literature such as plays, books, children's stories and poems. One of his most famous and innovative poems appearing in the Crisis of 1921 and 1923 was "The Negro Speaks of Rivers."
Langston Hughes's birth was on a very cold February 1, 1902 day in Joplin, Missouri. As a child, his father, Mr. James Hughes took off to Mexico to open a law office, and his mother (Carrie) worked hard to buy food and pay the rent. When Langston was eight years old, he went to live with his grandmother, Mary Langston (whom he loved dearly), in Lawrence, Kansas. At the age of 12, his grandmother died, and for two years after that he lived with people he lovingly called Auntie and Uncle Reed.
In 1920 he graduated from Cleveland Central High School. And in 1929, on a scholarship he attended Lincoln University.
No matter where he went or traveled, his favorite place was Harlem, New York, where he sat in the clubs listening to blues, jazz and writing poetry . "I was in love with Harlem long before I got there," he later recalled. "Had I been a rich young man, I would have bought a house in Harlem and built musical steps up to the front door, and installed chimes that at the press of a button played Ellington tunes." Langston felt very much a part of a large black family so he wrote one such poem:
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.
His versatility was evident in his capacity to create in every literary genre. In his coming-of-age novel, Not Without Laughter in 1930, Langston appears as a young boy, Sandy. Sandy shares a home in Kansas with his grandmother, known as Aunt Hagar, and her youngest daughter, Harriet. Sandy's father is a young good-looking wanderer who seldom provides for his family but can play a guitar and sing the blues with a passion.
Hughes's poetry is also a vehicle for Langston's sentiments. He displays in his poems a respect for religion and a love for women. He loves life no matter how "unlovable" life is to him. Langston's "Blues" poems express a path of escape. The rhythm of his poems is musical to the point where one almost wants to dance to it. "The Weary Blues" is a collection of poems dedicated to Harlem musicians.
In 1943, Hughes was awarded an honorary Litt.D by his alma mater, a Guggenheim Fellowship was bestowed in 1935 and a Rosenwald Fellowship was achieved in 1940. He won several prizes and was in constant demand for readings and lectures and throughout the world. He died from cancer on May 26, 1967. His resident was at 20 East 127th. Street in Harlem, New York, a block renamed "Langston Hughes Place".