Review — Langston Hughes

An artist must be free to choose what he does, certainly, but he must also never be afraid to do what he might choose. —Langston Hughes. Langston Hughes knew about having the blues, and he used his knowledge to create poetry based on the blues music form. In his novels, plays, and essays, he explored the African American experience. Langston Hughes shares the writer’s life, career, and lasting impact on history. The book belongs to the Fact Finders Biographies Series, in which young readers learn about great men and women who changed history. James Langston Hughes was born February 1, 1902, in Joplin, Missouri to James Nathaniel Hughes and Carrie Langston Hughes. Hughes’ father left the family and moved to Mexico shortly after Hughes was born. James Hughes believed African Americans were treated unfairly in the United States. They couldn’t get good jobs or own land. In Mexico, James Hughes became a successful business owner. After graduating from high school, Hughes hoped to go to Columbia University in New York City, but he didn’t have the money. In the summer of 1920, Langston Hughes got on a train in Cleveland, Ohio, heading to Mexico to ask his father for money for college. As the train crossed the Mississippi River, the sunset spread golden light on the water. Hughes imagined that the souls of African Americans were like great old rivers, and he began to write. Hughes titled his poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” In 1921, it was published in Crisis magazine by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The poem was his first nationally recognized poem. But when Hughes arrived in Mexico, he found his father wouldn’t help, so without money for school, Hughes stayed in Mexico. He taught English and wrote. Hughes also published poems and essays in U.S. magazines. In 1921, Hughes’ father agreed to pay for one year at Columbia, so he began classes there. Bue he didn’t like the school; most of his classmates were white, and he felt separated from other African Americans, and he decided not to return for a second year. Many African Americans lived in the Harlem area of New York City, and they became part of the Harlem Renaissance, writing at a time in the 1920s and 1930s when African American writing became more respected. Hughes had difficulty finding paying work; jobs open to African Americans did not pay well. In 1923, Hughes got a job on a ship headed for Africa. A writing career was not easy; Hughes wanted to write about difficult issues such as racism and poverty, and Hughes was poor most of his life. Hughes wrote 15 books of poetry and over 60 plays, many short stories, novels, song lyrics and essays including children’s books about Jazz and Africa and a history of the NAACP for adults. He died in 1967 at the age of 65. Even today, Hughes continues to be one of the most popular of all American poets. Langston Hughes tells the story of Hughes, his struggle to find his way in the post-war world, facing racial discrimination.

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