Langston Hughes: A Renaissance Man

Black History Month: The writer Langston Hughes was born on Feb. 1, 1902. Hughes was one of the young Black, creatives who came to fame during the Harlem Renaissance — a time in the 1920s when that particular New York City neighborhood bustled with Black arts and culture.

Hughes wrote poetry, plays, essays and more during his career. Much of his work had to do with the Black experience in America.

“I am the darker brother/They send me to eat in the kitchen/When company comes,” he wrote in his poem I,Too.

Playwright Lorraine Hansberry used a line from Hughes’ poem, What Happens to a Dream Deferred,” to title her own classic work, A Raisin in the Sun.

Hughes was a master at elevating everyday Black speech into high art. Many of his works, including Mule Bone: A Comedy of Negro Life, made heavy use of Black vernacular, much to the chagrin of some. The 1930 play he wrote with then friend and author Zora Neale Hurston was performed for a short run in the 1990’s.

Mule Bone is a revelation of life “behind the veil,” said Crisis magazine founder W.E.B. Du Bois. “It portrays what Black people say and think and feel when no White people are around in a highly metaphorical and densely lyrical language,” wrote historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. in a February 1991 New York Times piece.

Hughes was a passionate social activist and enjoyed a close relationship with the NAACP. His poem, The Negro Speaks of Rivers, was published in The Crisis magazine in 1921. He received a Spingarn Medal from the group in 1960. In 1962, Hughes wrote Fight for Freedom: The Story of the NAACP, a book that highlights the history of the group and its fight to take on systemic racism in America.

— Lisa Snowden–Mc Cray

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