Friday, July 13, 2012

biography of langston hughes

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Life And Times Of Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes was one of the most important writers and thinkers of the Harlem Renaissance, which was the African American artistic movement in the 10’s that celebrated black life and culture. Hughess creative genius was influenced by his life in Harlem, New York. His literary works helped shape American literature and politics. Hughes, like others active in the Harlem Renaissance, had a strong sense of racial pride. Through his poetry, novels, plays, essays, and childrens books, he promoted equality, condemned racism and injustice, and celebrated African American culture, humor, and spirituality.

James Langston Hughes was born February 1, 10 in Joplin, Missouri into an abolitionist family. He was the grandson of James Mercer Langston, the first African American to be elected to public office in 1855. His parents divorced when he was a small child and his father moved to Mexico. During this time, Hughes struggled with a sense of desolation fostered by parental neglect, and he recalled being driven early by his loneliness “to books, and the wonderful world in books.” (Life of Langston Hughes I, Too, Sing America) His grandmother raised him until he was twelve, when he moved to Lincoln, Illinois, to live with his mother and his stepfather, Homer Clark, eventually settling in Cleveland, Ohio. Hughes attended Central High School in Cleveland, Ohio, but began writing poetry in the eighth grade and was selected as Class Poet. Following graduation from high school in 10, Hughes spent a year in Mexico with his father and a year at Columbia University. His mother fumed about his departure, and his father offered him little warmth. Yet, with his unique gift for writing, Hughes turned the pain engendered by his parents conflict into the noted poem, The Negro Speaks of Rivers, published by Crisis in 11. (Life of Langston Hughes I Too, Sing America) His father did not think he would be able to make a living at writing, and encouraged him to pursue a more practical career. His father paid his tuition to Columbia University on the grounds he studied engineering. During these years, he held odd jobs as an assistant cook, launderer, and a busboy, and traveled to Africa and Europe working as a seaman. When funds for continuing college dried up, Hughes dropped out with a B+ average and moved to Harlem at the height of its golden era; all the while he continued writing poetry.

In 1, Hughes traveled abroad on a freighter to the Senegal, Nigeria, the Cameroons, Belgium Congo, Angola, and Guinea, and later to Italy, France, Russia and Spain. One of his favorite pastimes whether abroad or in Washington, D.C. or Harlem, New York was sitting in the clubs listening to blues, jazz and writing poetry. Through these experiences, a new rhythm emerged in his writing, and a series of poems such as The Weary Blues were penned. He returned to Harlem, in 14, during the period known as the Harlem Renaissance. At this time, Hughes’s work was frequently published and his writing flourished. It was 15 when Hughes moved to Washington, D.C., still spending more time in blues and jazz clubs. He said, I tried to write poems like the songs they sang on Seventh Street...[these songs] had the pulse beat of the people who keep on going. (Life of Langston Hughes I, Too, Sing America) At this same time, Hughes accepted a job with Dr. Carter G. Woodson, editor of the Journal of Negro Life and History and founder of Black History Week in 16. He returned to his beloved Harlem later that year. Langston Hughes returned to school in 16, this time to the historically black Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. He was supported by a patron of the arts, which was a wealthy white woman in her seventies named Charlotte Osgood Mason. Mason directed Hughess literary career, convincing him to write the novel Not Without Laughter; the two had a dispute in 10, however, and the relationship came to an end. At this point in Hughess life he turned to the political left and began to develop his interest in socialism.

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Hughes’s poems, short plays, essays, and short stories began appearing in the NAACP publication Crisis Magazine and in Opportunity Magazine and other publications. One of Hughes finest essays appeared in the Nation in 16, entitled The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain. It spoke of Black writers and poets, who would surrender racial pride in the name of a false integration, where a talented Black writer would prefer to be considered a poet, not a Black poet, which to Hughes meant he subconsciously wanted to write like a white poet. Hughes argued, No great poet has ever been afraid of being himself. (Life of Langston Hughes, 10-141 I, Too, Sing America) He wrote in this essay, 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 are not, it does not matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly too... If colored people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure doesnt matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow, as strong as we know how and we stand on the top of the mountain, free within ourselves. (www.falcon.jmu.edu/~ramseyil/hughes.htm)

Among his many poems, The Negro Mother (11), The Dream Keeper (1), and Montage Of A Dream Deferred (151) argue passionately a belief in human equality, a wish for color-blind brotherhood, and a growing disillusionment with the American dream. Perhaps Hughes’s finest literary achievement came during World War II in the course of writing a weekly column in the Chicago Defender that began in 14 and lasted twenty years. The highlight of the column was an offbeat Harlem character called Jesse B. Semple, or Simple, and his exchanges with a staid narrator in a neighborhood bar, where Simple commented on a variety of matters but mainly about race and racism. Simple became Hughess most celebrated and beloved fictional creation, and the subject of five collections edited by Hughes, starting in 150 with Simple Speaks His Mind. (www.nytimes.com)

Hughes’s two volumes of autobiography together with his essay about his involvement with the National Association For The Advancement Of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P.) and the Civil Rights Movement, Fight For Freedom, chart Hughess long commitment to comradeship and equality. The first volume, The Big Sea, written in an episodic, lightly comic manner, made virtually no mention of his leftist sympathies, and I Wonder As I Wander written in 156 was Hughes’s much-admired second volume of autobiography. He became prosperous, although he always had to work hard for his measure of prosperity and sometimes called himself, with good cause, a “literary sharecropper.” (Life of Langston Hughes I, Too, Sing America)

The Simple books inspired a musical show, Simply Heavenly written in 157, which met with some success. However, Hughess Tambourines to Glory (16), a gospel musical play satirizing corruption in a black storefront church, failed badly, with some critics accusing him of creating cartoons of black life. Nevertheless, his love of gospel music led to other acclaimed stage efforts, usually mixing words, music, and dance in an atmosphere of improvisation. Notable here were the Christmas show Black Nativity (161) and, inspired by the civil rights movement, Jericho--Jim Crow (164). (www.falcon.jmu.edu/~ramseyil/hughes.htm)

Hughes, who claimed Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Carl Sandburg, and Walt Whitman as his primary influences, is particularly known for his insightful, colorful portrayals of black life in America from the twenties through the sixties. His life and work were enormously important in shaping the artistic contributions of the Harlem Renaissance of the nineteen twenties. Unlike other notable black poets of the period, such as Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, And Countee Cullen, Hughes refused to differentiate between his personal experience and the common experience of black America. He wanted to tell the stories of his people without personalizing them, so the reader could step in and draw his own conclusions.

Langston Hughes was a prolific writer. In the forty-one years between his first book in 16 and his death in 167, he devoted his life to writing and lecturing. He wrote sixteen books of poems, two novels, three collections of short stories, four volumes of editorial and documentary fiction, twenty plays, childrens poetry, musicals and operas, three autobiographies, a dozen radio and television scripts and dozens of magazine articles. In addition, he edited seven anthologies. Critically, Langston Hughes is one of the most abused poets in America. Serious white critics ignored him, and most black critics only reluctantly admired him. Critics have mistaken the simple form of language of Hughes’s poetry for shortage of meaning. His real meanings are never that apparent and, in order to understand his work fully, one must have deep insight into ghetto life and psychology and an emotional tie. (www.falcon.jmu.edu/~ramseyil/hughes.htm)

Brooks Atkinson, a writer for the New York Times, wrote “Langston Hughes has succeeded in giving us in Not Without Laughter an intimate picture of that type of Negro life which has been so popular with white writers in the recent decades.” (www.nytimes.com) Not Without Laughter really has no story at all; only characters. One of the most interesting aspects of the novel is the excellent contrast in characters that it affords. Temy and Mr. Siles versus Harriet and Jim Boy. The novel is very slow, even tedious, reading in its early chapters, but once it gains its momentum it moves as swiftly as a jazz rhythm. Its chapters, emerging ever more clearly and challenging as the novel proceeds, gives it this rhythm. Every character in the novel, with the exception of Mr. Siles and Temy, is a living challenge to our civilization, a challenge that is all the more effective because it springs naturally out of its materials and is not superimposed upon them. Another one of Hughes’s distinguished works is the play Shakespeare in Harlem.

Shakespeare in Harlem lasted only three-quarters of an hour or less in the theatre. From an academic point of view, it is hardly a play. However, the gracefulness of feeling it discloses, the idiomatic music of the lines and the immaculate taste of the performance endow it with thoughtful beauty. “Under Richard Glenn’s quiet direction, the play is presented as a sketch of Harlem scenes against a luminous background, with a subdued but stirring musical score by Margaret Bonds.” (www.americaslibrary.gov) The acting was marvelous and controlled in various moods�the hearty good nature of Alma Hubbard; the touching, shining student by Calden Marsh; the massive, sulky blues man by John McCurry; the weary old man by Ted Butler. Hughes was unashamedly black at a time when blackness was d�mod�, and he did not go much beyond one of the earliest themes, black is beautiful. He had the wit and intelligence to explore the black human condition in a variety of depths, but his tastes and selectivity were not always accurate, and pressures to survive, as a black writer in a white society, and it was a miracle that he did for so long, extracted an enormous creative toll.

Langston Hughes died of caner on May , 167, in New York, NY. In his memory, his residence at 0 East 17th Street in Harlem, has been given landmark status by the New York City Preservation Commission, and his block of east 17th street was renamed “Langston Hughes Place.”

In many ways Hughes always remained loyal to the principles he had laid down for the younger black writers in 16. His art was firmly rooted in race pride and race feeling even as he cherished his freedom as an artist. He was both nationalist and international. As a radical democrat, he believed that art should be accessible to as many people as possible. He could sometimes be bitter, but his art is generally suffused by a keen sense of the ideal and by a profound love of humanity, especially black Americans. He was perhaps the most original of African American poets and, in the breadth and variety of his work, assuredly the most representative of African American writers.

Works Cited Page

A) Atkinson, Brooks. Not Without Laughter and other Recent Fiction.” March 11, 00. Available at www.nytimes.com/books/01/04//specials/hughes.htm#reviews

B) Cohen, Adele. Theatre “Shakespeare in Harlem” Langston Hughes. March 11, 00. Available at www.americaslibrary.gov/cgi-bin/page.cgi/aa/hughes

C) McKissack, Patricia. Langston Hughes Great American Poet. New York Enslow Publishing, November 1, 1

D) Patterson, Lindsay. Langston Hughes�The Most Abused Poet in America? March 11, 00. Available at www.jmu.edu/~ramseyil/hughes.htm

E) Rampersand, Arnold. Life of Langston Hughes, 10-141 I, Too, Sing America. Los Angeles Oxford Publishing, February 1, 18

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