English Literature » Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes


James Mercer Langston Hughes was born February 1, 1902, in Joplin, Missouri. His parents divorced when he was a young child, and his father moved to Mexico. He was raised by his grandmother until he was thirteen, when he moved to Lincoln, Illinois, to live with his mother and her husband, before the family eventually settled in Cleveland, Ohio. It was in Lincoln that Hughes began writing poetry. After graduating from high school, he spent a year in Mexico followed by a year at Columbia University in New York City. During this time, he held odd jobs such as assistant cook, launderer, and busboy. He also travelled to Africa and Europe working as a seaman. In November 1924, he moved to Washington, D. C. Hughes’s first book of poetry, The Weary Blues, (Knopf, 1926) was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1926. He finished his college education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania three years later. In 1930 his first novel, Not Without Laughter, (Knopf, 1930) won the Harmon gold medal for literature.

Hughes, who claimed Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Carl Sandburg, and Walt Whitman as his primary influences, is particularly known for his insightful, colorful portrayals of black life in America from the twenties through the sixties. He wrote novels, short stories and plays, as well as poetry, and is also known for his engagement with the world of jazz and the influence it had on his writing, as in his book-length poem Montage of a Dream Deferred (Holt, 1951). His life and work were enormously important in shaping the artistic contributions of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. Unlike other notable black poets of the period—Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, and Countee Cullen—Hughes refused to differentiate between his personal experience and the common experience of black America. He wanted to tell the stories of his people in ways that reflected their actual culture, including both their suffering and their love of music, laughter, and language itself.

The critic Donald B. Gibson noted in the introduction to Modern Black Poets: A Collection of Critical Essays (Prentice Hall, 1973) that Hughes “differed from most of his predecessors among black poets . . . in that he addressed his poetry to the people, specifically to black people. During the twenties when most American poets were turning inward, writing obscure and esoteric poetry to an ever decreasing audience of readers, Hughes was turning outward, using language and themes, attitudes and ideas familiar to anyone who had the ability simply to read . . . Until the time of his death, he spread his message humorously—though always seriously—to audiences throughout the country, having read his poetry to more people (possibly) than any other American poet.”

In addition to leaving us a large body of poetic work, Hughes wrote eleven plays and countless works of prose, including the well-known “Simple” books: Simple Speaks His Mind, (Simon & Schuster, 1950); Simple Stakes a Claim, (Rinehart, 1957); Simple Takes a Wife, (Simon & Schuster, 1953); and Simple’s Uncle Sam (Hill and Wang, 1965). He edited the anthologies The Poetry of the Negro and The Book of Negro Folklore, wrote an acclaimed autobiography, The Big Sea (Knopf, 1940), and cowrote the play Mule Bone (HarperCollins, 1991) with Zora Neale Hurston.

Langston Hughes died of complications from prostate cancer on May 22, 1967, in New York City. In his memory, his residence at 20 East 127th Street in Harlem has been given landmark status by the New York City Preservation Commission, and East 127th Street has been renamed “Langston Hughes Place.”

Poems by Langston Hughes

  1. 50-50
  2. Acceptance
  3. Advertisement For The Waldorf-Astoria
  4. April Rain Song
  5. Ardella
  6. As I Grew Older
  7. Bad Morning
  8. Bound No’th Blues
  9. Bouquet
  10. Brass Spittoons
  11. Catch
  12. Children’s Rhymes
  13. Cross
  14. Cultural Exchange
  15. Daybreak In Alabama
  16. Deceased
  17. Demand
  18. Democracy
  19. Dinner Guest: Me
  20. Dream Boogie
  21. Dream Deferred
  22. Dream Variations
  23. Dreams
  24. Dying Beast
  25. Easy Boogie
  26. Enemy
  27. Ennui
  28. Feet o’ Jesus
  29. Final Curve
  30. Fire-Caught
  31. For Selma
  32. Freedom’s Plow
  33. Genius Child
  34. God
  35. Gods
  36. Harlem [dream Deferred]
  37. Helen Keller
  38. I Continue To Dream
  39. I Dream A World
  40. I, Too
  41. In Time Of Silver Rain
  42. Jazzonia
  43. Juke Box Love Song
  44. Justice
  45. Kids Who Die
  46. Let America Be America Again
  47. Life Is Fine
  48. Lincoln Monument: Washington
  49. Lonesome Place
  50. Love Song For Lucinda
  51. Madam And Her Madam
  52. Madam And The Census Man
  53. Madam And The Phone Bill
  54. Madam And The Rent Man
  55. Madam’s Past History
  56. Me And The Mule
  57. Merry-Go-Round
  58. Minstrel Man
  59. Morning After
  60. Mother To Son
  61. Motto
  62. My People
  63. Negro Dancers
  64. Negro Speaks Of Rivers
  65. Night Funeral In Harlem
  66. Oppression
  67. Park Bench
  68. Peace
  69. Personal
  70. Pierrot
  71. Po’ Boy Blues
  72. Prize Fighter
  73. Problems
  74. Question [1]
  75. Quiet Girl
  76. Sea Calm
  77. Sick Room
  78. Silence
  79. Snake
  80. Song For A Dark Girl
  81. Songs
  82. Still Here
  83. Suicide’s Note
  84. Sylvester’s Dying Bed
  85. Thanksgiving Time
  86. The Ballad Of The Landlord
  87. The Blues
  88. The City
  89. The Dream Keeper
  90. The Negro Mother
  91. The Negro Speaks Of Rivers
  92. The Weary Blues
  93. Theme For English B
  94. To Artina
  95. To Certain
  96. Trumpet Player
  97. Wake
  98. Walkers With The Dawn
  99. Warning
  100. Wealth
  101. When Sue Wears Red
  102. Will V-Day Be Me-Day Too?
  103. Wisdom And War
  104. You and your whole race