Langston Hughes

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Born in the early years of the 20th century, Langston Hughes was at the core of the Harlem Renaissance. However, his early life was peppered with change and crises. Soon after the writer’s birth, his parents split up. And while Hughes’ mother looked for employment, he was raised by Mary Patterson Langston, his grandmother. She was his mentor and role model, and it was her pride and love of the fellow people of her race that Langston Hughes translated into his works.

Throughout the early years, the poet had to move extensively. And after graduating high school, he briefly visited his father, who left for Mexico to get away from the American racial discrimination. Hoping to gain his father’s financial support to get into Columbia University, Hughes consented to apply for a degree in Engineering. However, he barely stayed in school for a year before dropping out. Later, he would obtain a Lincoln University degree.

New York, and Harlem in particular, became Hughes’ haunting ground. And his works were noticed by a few local magazines, including The Crisis. But, while he would continue to publish columns, he was also an accomplished poet, novelist and public speaker. In fact, he was the first African American writer to devote himself fully to his writing career and make enough money to make ends meet.

The curious disparity among the response to Langston Hughes’ works is deeply rooted in the conversational style and blunt portrayal of the black culture that was present in his every work. Langston Hughes criticism came from an unexpected source. While most white critics ignored his works, the black critics considered Hughes’ works to be trashy, written in poor taste. As the writer himself explained it, many critics were willing to show the shiny facade without divulging the real culture beneath. At the same time, Hughes did not bother adding frills to real stories and described fellow African Americans in their full glory. And that’s what endeared him to his readers. The simple words, short sentences, and understandable situations that were familiar to everyone earned him a huge following. Hughes gained his popularity through frequent publications, lectures and speeches.

His life was never dull or predictable. For instance, in the 1930s, Hughes was invited with a group of black Americans to the USSR to take part in filming a movie. As a communist sympathizer, Hughes took this opportunity to visit Russia and other states under Soviet rule. And while the venture did not pan out in the end, the writer took an opportunity to travel further East to visit PRC and Japan.

Significant Langston Hughes poetry and other works

Hughes’ bibliography is quite extensive, considering he started writing and publishing at a young age and remained a prolific writer throughout his life until he died in 1967 because of surgery complications. 

“The Negro Speaks of Rivers” is among the most anthologized of his early poems. The short verse is among the prime samples of jazz poetry, of which Hughes is considered a pioneer. It may seem extremely different from traditional poems at first and simplistic to boot. However, the poem incorporates deep symbolism and manages to convey the tragic history of the black race within a few short lines. “Visitors to the Black Belt” is another signature poem, though it has a different feel and style, ironic and almost mocking the differences between the Harlem dwellers and unsuspecting outsiders.

“Thank You, Ma’am” is a remarkable short story depicting the surprising kindness of a white woman who caught a black boy trying to pickpocket. But instead of calling the police, she gave him money to buy the shoes he craved. This story is another proof of Hughes’ talent to conceal multiple layers of meaning in the simplest and most trivial stories.

Like many writers before him, Hughes tried his hand at an autobiography and published “The Big Sea” in 1940. Some of its parts are particularly powerful, like “Salvation,” which is a favorite of many a literature professor. Luckily, you can find ready-made analysis among the free Langston Hughes essay samples in our database.

It’s challenging to identify Langston Hughes most famous poetry, but there is no contest when it comes to short stories. His works about Jesse B. Semple (Simple for short) were always well received and consistently popular with both editors and readers. A common Harlem dweller, Simple, told his stories about small everyday challenges and the trouble he got into. The character was well-written and likable, easy to connect with for every African American.

Writing an essay about Langston Hughes or any of his works becomes a challenge with so much ground to cover. Without an in-depth understanding of the historical reality and the vibrant Harlem culture, it is easy to miss the subtle nuances and subtext hidden within Hughes’ works. And a simple retelling of the verses or the plot won’t endear you to the Literature professor. 

Instead of pouring over anthologies and critics’ reviews, start by checking our free essay database. There are plenty of papers on Langston Hughes’ poems, stories, and novels. You’ll find enough food for thought, and a single spark could ignite your understanding of this writer and his unique style.

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