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“Hold fast to your dreams, for without them life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly” This is one of Langston Hughes’ most notable quotes, which urges his audience to hold on to their dreams. Langston Hughes was one of the most famous and celebrated African American poets and novelists of the twentieth century. He was an American novelist, poet, social activist, playwright, and a columnist from Joplin, Missouri. When he was younger, he moved to New York City to build his career. Hughes was one of the earliest developers of the new literary art called jazz poetry. He had many accomplishments. One of his major accomplishments was “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”. He won literary awards for his poems, novels, and short stories; founding theaters; teaching at universities, and being a major contributor to the Harlem Renaissance and the appearance African Americans in American literature.
James Mercer Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri on February 1st, 1902 to James Nathaniel Hughes and Carrie Mercer Langston. His parents separated when Langston was young and his father moved to Mexico. His mother traveled a lot to look for work and was not always in his life so he was raised by his maternal grandmother, Mary Sampson Patterson Leary Langston. He had a mixed heritage of Native American, French and African. When Hughes was five, during a trip with his mother he went into a bookstore for the first time and fell in love with reading. That was just the beginning of his love affair with words. After his grandmother’s death in 1910, Hughes lived with his grandmother’s friends, the Reeds, who did not have any children of their own. He got his first job the same year, at the age of eight, cleaning the lobby and restrooms of an old hotel. This experience influenced him later in life, most notably when he wrote the poem “Brass Spittoons.” Around 1914, he went to live with his mom and her new husband and his stepbrother in Lincoln, Illinois. After a year, they moved to Cleveland, Ohio where he attended Central High School and had our successful years. He made honor roll every month and was on the track team and was an editor in the yearbook. When Hughes was seventeen he went to Toluca, Mexico to spend the summer with his father, Jim Hughes. Hughes had not seen his father since he was very little and was really happy about making the trip. But while Hughes was with his father, there was no kind of bond between the two. Jim was a man that was driven to make money, that was cold and wanted to get respect.
During his junior and senior year of high school, Hughes was not as happy living with his father. When his senior year he wrote a poem “When Sue Wears Red” about a girl he had saw during a dance and critics would praise the poem as the first poet to celebrate the beauty of black women. In July of 1920 Hughes went to visit his father in Mexico again and while he was crossing the Mississippi River to St. Louis, Missouri, he wrote fifteen lines on an envelope and dedicated to a black leader, W.E.B Du Bois (1860- 1963) and was called “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and is about the deep and the important spiritual role rivers play or had played in black people’s lives. When the poem was published one year later, it gained a lot of notice as an elegant expression of pleasure in the spirituality and toleration of black people in the world. He continued to write poetry and published it in Belfrey Owl, a famous newspaper and that had already shown the impact of another famous African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar.
In 1921 Hughes’s first major poem was published after he had graduated from high school. Hughes’s poem was published in an African American magazine Crisis and won first prize in other magazines literary competitions. Hughes was only twenty-four years old when his poetry collection “The Weary Blues” was originally published, it won many awards and the money as the prize, Hughes used the money to complete his education in college in Lincoln, Pennsylvania. The poem got sponsored by Opportunity magazines, which was issued by Urban League. “The Weary Blues” ended up becoming an American classic. This piece of poetry was affected by the music he had heard when he was a child. “The Blues” is a style of music growed by African Americans. Both genres of music express deep pain, even though blues usually have a lost or wayward love. In 1926, Hughes published the first Poetry and was noticed for using black themes and jazz rhythms in his work. He continued to publish plays, poetry and short stories. In 1930, Hughes won the Harlem gold medal for literature for his first novel “Not Without Laughter”.
In the 1930s, Hughes put his poetry towards racial justice and political radicalism. In 1930 he traveled to the American South in 1931 and denounced the Scottsboro case; then traveled in the Soviet Union, Haiti, Japan and other places and was a newspaper corresponder (1937) during the Spanish Civil War. He then published a collection of short stories. “The Ways of White Folks” (1934) and then became very involved in theatre. In 1935 he got a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Rosenwald Fellowship in 1941 and in 1943 he received letters from Lincoln University. Hughes was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1946. He also received the Anisfield-Wolf Book award in 1954 and the Spingarn Medal in 1960 for achievement by a black American. Hughes taught at a University in Atlanta and the University of Chicago and Los Angeles.
Hughes had many works. His works included poetry, autobiographies, edited anthologies and plays. In 1931, Hughes published “The Negro Mother and other Dramatic Recitations”, in 1932 “The Dream Keeper” in 1942, “Shakespeare Harlem” in 1942, in 1947 “Fields of Wonder” and “One Way Ticket”, in 1955 “The First Book of Jazz”, in 1958 “Tambourines To Glory”, in 1959 “Selected Poems” and in 1961 “The Best of Simple. Hughes also wrote 3 autobiographies, “Not Without Laughter”, “The Big Sea” and “I Wonder as I Wander”.
Langston Hughes was a very important figure in the Harlem Renaissance. He continued to fight for social justice and racial equality through his work and he also wrote about African American experiences, which went from poetry and plays to novels and newspaper columns.
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