Second child-mixed of separated parents

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About Langston Hughes

  • Second child-mixed of separated parents (strong rel with mother, poor one with father)

  • Both parents-mixed race

  • Midwesterner (USA)

  • Paternal and maternal great grandmothers-African American

  • Paternal and maternal great grandmothers-white (Scottish, Jewish)

  • Named after father and gand-uncle John Mercer Langston, 1888 first African-American to be elveted to US Congress from Virginia

  • Maternal grandmother Mary Patterson-African-American, French, English and Native American descent, one of first women to attend Oberlin College, selective private liberal arts college in Oberlin, OH

  • In grammar school in Lincoln, IL-elected class poet (in retrospect-stereotype-rhythm, 2 Negros in class, English teacher stressing rhythm in poetry)

  • High School in Cleveland, OH-school newspaper, yearbook editor, write short stories, poetry, dramatic plays

  • Influenced by Am poets Paul Laurence Dunbar, a late 19th and early 20th century Afr-Am poet, and Carl Sandburg, a (white) Am writer and editor best known for his poetry and bio of Abe Lincoln

  • Lived briefly in Mexico with father, did not understand father's strange dislike of his own people-Negroes, wanted to attend Columbia University (private research university in NYC and member of Ivy League) to be a writer, father wanted him to study engineering, left Columbia U in 1922 due to racial prejudice, interested in Harlem and continued writing poetry

  • Worked various odd jobs, crewman aboard S.S.Mslone in 1923 (West Af and Europe), temp stay in Paris, member of black expat comm in England, returned to Washington, D.C. in Nov 1924, worked more odd jobs

  • white-collar employment in 1925-personal assistant to historian at Assoc for the Study of Afr Am Life and History-demanding job so quit to work as a busboy in a hotel

  • coincidentally ran into Vachel Lindsay, an Am poet and father of modern singing poetry (born in Springfield, IL)-imagine convers b/t the two

  • Lindsay impressed with his poems and publicized discovery of a new black poet

  • 1926 enrolled in Lincoln University, a historically black university in Chester County, PA

  • became member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, a black fraternal org founded at Howard U in Washington, D.C.

  • Thurgood Marshall (Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States)-alumnus and classmate of Hughes

  • Hughes earned his B.A. from Lincoln in 1929, traveled to Soviet Union and Caribbean, and lived in Harlem

  • Some academics and biographers today believe that hughes was homosexual and included homosexual codes in many of his poems, similar to Wal Whitman (also influenced Hughes' poetry), however according to Hughes' primary biographer-exhibited preference for other Afr-Am men in work and life and concluded that Hughes was probably asexual and passive in sexual rel

  • Died in 1967 from complications after abdominal surgery related to prostate cancer, was 65 years old, ashes are interred beneath floor medallion (floor design-African cosmogram titled Rivers, taken from Hughes' poem The Negro Speaks of Rivers) in foyer leading to auditorium named for him within the Arthur Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem

The Negro Speaks of Rivers

I've known rivers:

I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
        flow of human blood in human veins.

 My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I danced in the Nile when I was old
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy
bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I've known rivers:

Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

"The Negro Speaks of Rivers" (1920) ,
in The Weary Blues (1926) [32]

  • Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s-Hughes' life and work was influential during that time-conflict-goals and aspirations of black middle class

Hughes wrote what would be considered the manifesto for him and his contemporaries published in The Nation in 1926,

 "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain"

The younger Negro artists who create now intend to express
our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame.
If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not,
it doesn't matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly, too.
The tom-tom cries, and the tom-tom laughs. If colored people
are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure
doesn't matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow,
strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain
free within ourselves.

Hughes was unashamedly black at a time when blackness was démodé, and he didn’t go much beyond the themes of black is beautiful as he explored the black human condition in a variety of depths.[34] His main concern was the uplift of his people, of whom he judged himself the adequate appreciator, and whose strengths, resiliency, courage, and humor he wanted to record as part of the general American experience.[35][36] Thus, his poetry and fiction centered generally on insightful views of the working class lives of blacks in America, lives he portrayed as full of struggle, joy, laughter, and music. Permeating his work is pride in the African American identity and its diverse culture. "My seeking has been to explain and illuminate the Negro condition in America and obliquely that of all human kind,"[37] Hughes is quoted as saying. Therefore, in his work he confronted racial stereotypes, protested social conditions, and expanded African America’s image of itself; a “people’s poet” who sought to reeducate both audience and artist by lifting the theory of the black aesthetic into reality.[38] An expression of this is the poem "My People":[39]

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.

The Ways of White Folks by Langston Hughes, 1934

Moreover, Hughes stressed the importance of a racial consciousness and cultural nationalism devoid of self-hate that united people of African descent and Africa across the globe and encouraged pride in their own diverse black folk culture and black aesthetic. Langston Hughes was one of the few black writers of any consequence to champion racial consciousness as a source of inspiration for black artists.[40]

  • the most important technical influence in his emphasis on folk and jazz rhythms as the basis of his poetry of racial pride.[43]

  • His first piece of jazz poetry, "'When Sue Wears Red", was written while he was still in high school.

When Sue Wears Red

When Susanna Jones wears red
her face is like an ancient cameo
Turned brown by the ages.
Come with a blast of trumphets, Jesus!

When Susanna Jones wears red

A queen from some time-dead Egyptian night
Walks once again.
Blow trumphets, Jesus!

And the beauty of Susanna Jones in red

Burns in my heart a love-fire sharp like a pain.
Sweet silver trumphets, Jesus!

Langston Hughes I, Too, Sing America American poetry

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