The Harlem Renaissance originally called the “new negro movement” it started up in the 1920’s and went all the way to the 1930’s. After the first world war and the stock market crash African Americans wanted a new beginning, they wanted out of the Jim Crow Laws they wanted out of segregation. Many African Americans migrated and moved from the south to the north. One City that caught major attention was in New York the city formally known as Harlem it became one of the largest African American communities.
In Harlem new ideas were formed new artist, musicians, writers, and singers saw a new beginning. It was the golden ages for African American culture. Being able to live in Harlem opened up the door for so many Africans Americans it gave them the freedom to express themselves in their art, music, poems, and so much more. New black influences started to come up like W.E.B Du Bois who promoted black pride and he encouraged African Americans to become self-determined and to build themselves up in this world. Next there is Duke Ellington a jazz musician who played many instruments and started a new sound that all cultures enjoyed. Then there is Langston Hughes was an American writer of poetry, novels, and screen plays. James Mercer Langston Hughes was born on February 1902 in Joplin Missouri. As his life continues, he will become one of the biggest leaders in the Harlem Renaissance. Hughes “introduced a new form of literature that reflected confidence and racial pride.” His work showed social awareness, his work was greatly admired because he wrote before and after his time.
Hughes was one of the widest ranged black American writers his work was showed equally for all ethnics. Life was not always easy for Langston Hughes his parents separated so he spent most of his time living with his grandmother. His mother lived in Topeka Colorado and father lived in Mexico. His Father was very strict and cold, after his marriage to Carrie and after the death of his first child he moved to Mexico, so he could try to start a new life. He succeeded, and he became very successful to now support Langston as he grows up. Langston and his grandmother Mary Leary Langston lived in Kansas. Money was a problem, but his grandmother began to rent out rooms or the entire house to college students. Hughes grandmother was a great influence on his life until she died in 1915. After his grandmother’s death he moved in with his aunt and uncle who constantly tried to get him to join a church. In the seventh grade Hughes got his first job cleaning an old hotel near a school which would later inspire “Brass Spittoons.” In 1917 Langston Hughes began to attend Central High School in Cleveland Ohio. He ran track, joined the student magazine where wrote poetry for the Belfry Owl, he made the honor roll, and edited the school’s yearbook. He began to make friend with Jewish kids because he believed that “children of foreign-born parents to be more democratic than of white Americans.” He was fascinated in reading Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, Edna Ferber and much more. Hughes was depressed most of his teenage life he thought about commenting suicide, but he couldn’t go through with it. He eventually dated a woman who inspired him to write about the beauties of the black women. She also inspired him to write the lyric “When Sues Wears Red.”
In 1920 he graduated High School and he moved to Texas with his father. While on the train crossing the Mississippi River Hughes wrote “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” His Father James Hughes offered to pay for Hughes college if he studies engineering. In 1921 Langston Hughes enrolled in Columbia University he realized quickly that his childhood was over and that he had to transition to adulthood. He stopped attending classes to go watch Broadway shows and lectures at Rand School. He missed a lot of important exams and after Finals Hughes dropped out of college. In 1923, he wrote a poem that would give him the title to his first volume of poetry “The weary blues.” Hughes writes about a musician that get tired or “wears” himself out as he is singing the blues. In the winter of 1925 Hughes started working at the Wardman Park Hotel where he met Vachel Lindsay. Hughes see an opportunity, so he starts to leave copies of his poems “Jazzonia”, “Negro Dancer”, and “The Weary Blues” for Lindsay to see.
Lindsay pulls a couple of strings and he get Hughes name in the paper and he is finally discovered. As the year goes on Hughes won his first poetry competition sponsored by Casper Holstein a rich West Indian banker. At the contest Hughes Met Carl Van Vechten, Hughes sent copies of his poems to Van Vechten and he was very pleased by his work, so he sent Hughes poems to his publisher who promise Langston to publish his book. His poetry during this time was about young romance. He began to write “Fantasy Purple” as “I Grew Older” “Trouble Women” and “Mother to Son.” All of these poems were added on into the Weary blues which Hughes published on January 1926. Not everyone was pleased about what Hughes wrote about they called him and his work racist and harsh, and some found his work to be inspirational because of how he explained and wrote about life in Harlem. In February 1926 he visited Lincoln Illinois and decided to enroll at Lincoln University. Hughes later find himself moving to Harlem New York on 137th Street, where lived by and met many great people. As time went on Hughes found it more and more easy to incorporate more genres to his poetry. Hughes defined himself as a citizen-poet. Hughes said, “A poet is a human being, and each human being must live within his time.”
He saw the hardship Blacks had to face more than whites. He wrote about the troubling society he wrote about jazz and blues, and most importantly he wrote about black identify, And black pride. Hughes found his three literary vocabulary when it came to his work. He used “the unremembered place of origin in Africa, the unrealized yet perfectible social spaced of America, and the unprecedented enclave of black Harlem.” As life went on Hughes work got deeper his poem written in 1932-1933 were written about inequality, exploitation, and the injustice he observed in America. This hardship inspired him to write “Good Morning Revolution. “A poem about a man his workers all day but still seems to struggle in life he watches his boss lives lavishly and doesn’t do any type of work. Later published on September 1932 which was then rejected by the Saturday newspaper to not appear in inside their post. After that experience he was motivated write more poems just like “Good Morning Revolution.” In the summer of 1937 Hughes travel to Europe to write about the Spanish civil war. The Spanish civil war started in 1936-1939 cause by the military revolting against the Spanish government which was led by the dictator Manuel Azana. After he revolution it led to a bloody cruel war. While being in Spain the people felt confused to see Langston, a black American. He came into contact with prisoner and he found out the reason why some of them were imprisoned and he felt disgusted and hurt by the reason. While in Spain he wrote “Postcards from Spain” “Letters from Spain.” Hughes still continued to write about life in Harlem but as the years passed the excitement left and reality in Harlem started to show in Langston’s poems.
For Hughes Harlem changed for the worse. His poetry began to talk about loneliness abandonment, suicide, dying people. He published Shakespeare in Harlem and he Montage of a Dream Deferred. where he talked about how dreams deferred, how dreams die or become destroyed. He talks about how dream can dry up “like a raisin in the sun.” He also goes on to write One-Way-Ticket where he described to us how African Americans were just expected to pick up everything they had to move from the south to the north because of the unfair treatment, the lynching, and the Jim crow laws. He expressed his bitterness he expressed his hurt. After Hughes Published Montage of a Dream Deferred, he inspired younger poets to write and find meaning as they lived in Harlem. Langston then moved on to start writing Afro-American Vernacular music which consist of American music, Jazz, and folksongs. His new works began to receive good and negative thoughts. Langston didn’t care he thought the music and the poetry should had the same background. He finally founded something that took the hurt and pain away. He was excited to write and hear people sing his music. Some people thought he was braved to try something new and other like W.E.B DuBois thought it was too much. He thought a black man who fought so hard to gain respect as black man crossing the line. Langston Hughes is one of the greatest American poets, playwriter, song writer, and novelist to live during the Harlem renaissance. Langston died on May 22, 1967 at the age of 65 from prostate cancer.
- Primary Source Books: Steven C. Tracy “A historical guide to Langston Hughes.” (Oxford New York, Oxford University press inc 2004). R. Baxter miller “Langston Hughes, 1902-1967: A brief Biography”. (Oxford New York, Oxford University press inc 2004) 23-62
- James De jongh “The poet Speaks of places” (Oxford New York, Oxford University press inc) 2004) 65-84
- Steven C. Tracy” Langston Hughes And Afro-American Vernacular Music” (Oxford New York, Oxford University press inc 2004)
- Secondary Source Book: James de Jongh “Vicious modernism: Black Harlem and the Literary Imagination” (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990)
- Steven C. Tracy “Langston Hughes & The Blues” ( United States of America: The Board of Trustees of the university of Illinois 1988)
- Journal Articles: Dawahare, Anthony. “Langston Hughes’s Radical Poetry and the ‘End of Race.’” Melus, vol. 23, no. 3, 1998, p. 21., doi:10.2307/467676.
- Brinkman, Bartholomew. “Movies, Modernity, and All That Jazz: Langston Hughes’s Montage of a Dream Deferred.” African American Review, vol. 44, no. 1-2, 2011, pp. 85–96., doi:10.1353/afa.2011.0040.
- Watson, Renee. “Langston Hughes.” Remember Langston Hughes’s Anger Alongside His Joy, 1995, doi:10.4324/9781315861593. Website: “Donquijote.” Spanish civil war (1936-1939)-
- History of Spain- Don Quijote, 1989, www.donquijote.org/spanish-culture/history/spanish-civil-war/. “Langston Hughes” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation,2018, www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/Langston-Huges