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Langston Hughes
Based on a handout from Mrs Kim's class

James Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri on February 1, 1902. At the age of 13, Hughes moved from Joplin to Lincoln, Illinois to live with his mother and her husband before settling in Cleveland, Ohio, where he lived until he went to college. He died in Harlem, New York on May 22, 1967.

Growing up in an abolitionist family, Hughes developed an incredible sense of pride and a strong willed attitude that contributed to his success throughout his life.

Hughes began writing, most of his works being poetry, at a very young age. Even then, people noticed how talented he was with his words and prose. However, his father felt differently. Believing that writing was not a very stable profession, Hughes was sent to Columbia to study engineering. Even though he did very well in the program, Hughes decided to drop out and more closely pursue his writing.

His first published poem, and one of his most famous works, was The Negro Speaks of Rivers. After this was printed in Brownie's Book, more attention was focused on Hughes for his writing abilities. As his career began to flourish, more and more of his pieces were published, including many of his essays, short stories, and plays.

Throughout his career, many aspects of Hughes' life greatly influenced the topics of his pieces. Many of his poems, stories, essays, and plays were about the racial boundaries that African Americans had to face on a daily basis and the fact that no one should be ashamed to be who they are. They should fight back against the world for what they want, for the rights of their people and themselves. In his essay titled The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain, Hughes discusses the desire of some African American poets to be known as poets, not black poets. He believed, however, that this longing for this sort of recognition is only the desire to write as a white poet, rather than embracing their heritage and accepting who they are and displaying that acceptance and history in their writing.

This is an excerpt from The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain:

    "We younger Negro artists now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they aren't, it doesn't matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly too... If colored people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure doesn't matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow, as strong as we know how and we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves.
The Harlem Renaissance also inspired Hughes as he wrote. The freedom that the African Americans expressed during this time and the disregard for the suppression that they faced motivated Hughes and influenced all of his poems, plays and stories. Being a fan of the jazz music movement that occurred during this time, Hughes once said that he wanted to write poetry like the songs he heard in clubs because they "had the pulse beat of the people who keep on going."

A sample of Langston Hughes' Poetry.