Langston Hughes, born James Mercer Langston Hughes on 1 February 1902, has left an indelible mark on the landscape of American literature. Revered as one of the key figures in the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes’ work offers a vivid portrayal of African American life through the use of rich language, sharp wit, and a keen understanding of the human condition.
Born in Joplin, Missouri, Langston Hughes was predominantly raised by his grandmother Mary after his parents’ tumultuous relationship led to their separation. Living in segregated America at the time, young Hughes was no stranger to hardship and prejudice. Growing up with diverse cultural heritage – his grandmother being African-American and Native American descent and both his parents having African and European roots – provided him with deep insight into the complexities of race and society.
Despite facing numerous obstacles throughout his life, Hughes showed undeniable love for the written word. Introduced to literature by his grandmother and inspired by such greats as Paul Laurence Dunbar and Carl Sandburg, Hughes penned his first poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” in 1921 at age 19. Published soon after in the journal Crisis, this piece was a stepping stone towards what would become an illustrious writing career.
Inspired by the cultural movement taking hold in Harlem during the 1920s, Langston Hughes moved to New York City in pursuit of higher education at Columbia University. However, it was the electric energy of Harlem itself that truly captured Hughes’ creative spirit. Surrounded by fellow artists and intellectuals such as Zora Neale Hurston and James Weldon Johnson, he delved fully into the literary scene while still studying at Lincoln University.
In 1925, Hughes made waves with his poem “The Weary Blues,” which earned him first place in the prestigious Opportunity magazine contest. This win not only garnered him a scholarship but also invitations to influential social gatherings, propelling his reputation even further.
Two years later, in 1926, Langston Hughes published his first book of poetry, “The Weary Blues.” This bold and evocative collection paid unapologetic tribute to the authentic experiences of black America – celebrating its culture, music, and traditions. Continuing to break down barriers and challenge societal norms over the years, Hughes emerged as a beacon for the African American community and a cornerstone of twentieth-century American literature.
Langston Hughes’ exemplary contribution to literature is a narrative of hope, courage, and resilience. His unfaltering pursuit of artistic truth sheds light on an important aspect of America’s history. As we consider Langston Hughes’ early life and career, it becomes evident that his exceptional body of work will continue to inspire generations of readers and writers alike.
A Dream Deferred
Dream Deferred is a short poem by Langston Hughes. Once you read it, the message is clear. Follow your dreams.
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode.