Langston Hughes was born on the 1st of February in 1902 in Joplin, Missouri. He was a brilliant son of James Hughes, a practicing lawyer and Carrie Langston, a school teacher. He was an unfortunate child as his parents were separated soon after his birth. His father moved to Mexico, while his mother mostly left him with his maternal grandmother in search of steady employment. He found living with his maternal mother entertaining and consoling. Yet, again misfortune struck him when his maternal grandmother left him in 1915. As a young boy, he felt insecure and neglected as he didn’t experience the love and comfort of a family.
Langston had disturbed from the heart-wrenching separation of his parents. However, he started his educational journey from Ohio, where he attended a local high school. Unfortunately, he faced racial discrimination at school as all black students were forced to sit in a separate row, which he termed as Jim Crow Row. Despite all these injustices, Langston performed well. With all the bitter experiences of his childhood, he wrote his first poem during his stay in the school. His teachers greatly appreciated it. Soon he became a junior published talent when his first poem was published in his school magazine, The Central High Monthly. After finishing high school, he went to Colombia for graduation and started his career as a writer. However, he did not finish his degree. Later in 1926, he attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvania for further education.
This iconic figure led a life full of pain and misery, partly because of his separation from his parents and partly due to the struggle he waged to earn a name. His parents parted their ways when he was young, depriving him of the joys and sweet memories of childhood. Although he started living with his mother after his grandmother’s demise, those hours of pleasures were also short-lived. His mother and stepfather moved to Chicago, while he stayed behind to complete his studies.
Later, when he was in the junior year of school, his father reentered in his life and longed for their reunion. He went to Mexico, but once again experienced pain and suffering as he could not meet his father. However, after graduation, his father supported him to complete his education. This shows that all these challenges contributed to his maturity.
Though he remained grief-stricken throughout his life, he managed to carve a better future for himself and earned greatness through his writing. This legendary figure breathed his last on the 22nd of May in 1967 after having abdominal surgery. Unlike his poetry, his funeral was also jazz and blues. The famous jazz pianist was called to play for his funeral.
Some Important Facts of His Life
- Langston Hughes played a pivotal role in the Harlem Renaissance movement.
- He received many awards and honors during his lifetime on account of his marvelous services.
- His home at East 127th street in Harlem became a nationally registered landmark.
Although destiny never favored him, Langston became a published poet. When he was a student of eighth grade, his first piece of writing was published in a school magazine. He had a unique literary taste and great poetic skills, but his introduction with Walt Whitman and Carl Sandburg gave flight to his poetic imaginations. He wrote one of his famous poems, “The Negro Speaks of a River” on his way to Mexico on a train. His first book of poetry, “The Weary Blue” appeared in 1924, while in 1930, his first novel, “Not without Laughter” won the Harmon gold medal.
Throughout his life, he wrote many poems, novels, and plays. He was also known for his interest in the world of Jazz which is reflected in his book, “Montage of a Dream Deferred” in 1951. He produced many masterpieces in his life, including eleven plays and countless pieces of prose, including The Book of Negro Folklore, The Big Sea, Simple Takes a Wife and Simple Speaks his Mind.
After establishing his career as a great American poet, Langston Hughes added enough into the world of literature. Despite facing countless challenges and unrest in life, he successfully coined a prominent place in the literary world with his lucid and creative ideas. Also, his dark childhood and separation from parents shaped his writing and made him experience the irreparable loss of life. Therefore, he documented these ideas well in his poems such as, “Negro Speaks of a River”, “I Too” and “Harlem”.
Moreover, his ideas about the sufferings of the black race are reflected well in his masterpieces. The recurring themes in most of his writings stand, sorrow, loneliness, freedom, prejudice, and racial discrimination. Regarding literary devices, he often turns to metaphors, similes, visual and sensory imagery, and sound devices to create a unique style.
Langston Hughes Works
- Best Poems: He was an outstanding poet, some of his best poems include: “I Too”, “The Negro Speaks of the River”, “The Weary Blues”, “As I Grew Older” and “Theme for English B.”
- Best Plays: Some of the other notable plays he wrote include: Mule Bone, Mulatto, Simply Heavenly, Black Nativity and Street Scene.
Langston Hughes’s Impact on Future Literature
Langston’s literary qualities and unique way of expression helped shape American literature and politics. He promoted equality through his writings and condemned injustices and racial discrimination. Also, he celebrated and admired the African American culture in most of his works. It is due to these qualities. He had a powerful influence over many poets and writers. His great works are not only admired but also taught in various curriculum across the globe. He brought into light the beauty and simplicity of African American culture and the forces that tried to dismantle its innocence. He is considered a beacon for writing prose and poetry by many aspiring poets.
- “Books -where if people suffered, they suffered in beautiful language, not in monosyllables, as we did in Kansas” (I Wonder as I Wander: An Autobiographical Journey, 1956)
- “My soul has grown deep like the rivers.” (The Negro Speaks of Rivers, 1920)
- “Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby.” (April Rain Song)
- “Hold fast to your dreams, for without them life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.”
(Montage of a Dream Deferred, 1951)