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The Life And Works Of Langston Hughes

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The Life and Works of Langston Hughes

" In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone, I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan - Ain't got nobody all in this world, Ain't got nobody but ma self. I's gwine to quit ma frownin' and put ma troubles on the shelf." The above excerpt is from Langston Hughes prize winning poem, "The Weary Blues." Hughes, considered to be one of the world's outstanding authors of the twentieth century (Ruley 148), is a prolific poet, novelist, essayist, playwright, autobiographer, and a writer a of children's books (Andrews, Foster, Harris 368). David Nicholson says of Hughes, "He strove to reflect an American reality ignored or distorted by other American writers (504)." The magnificent poet dealt with many struggles in his life and was criticized by many critics for the poem, "The Weary Blues", as well as his other works. The lyricist overcame this scrutiny and his struggles, to become a successful, talented writer.

Langston Hughes, of French, Indian, and African decent, was born in Joplin, Missouri, on February 1, 1902 (Andrews, Foster, Harris 368). His parents, Carrie and James Langston, were not apart of Hughes' childhood. Carrie Langston was a small town debutante; she left her son with his grandmother to go live in Kansas City to pursue an acting career (Bloom, Bloom's 11). As for his father, James Langston, a mixed, cold, man who detested blacks, ran off to Mexico (Bloom, Bloom's 11). Hughes loved his mother hopelessly and yearned to be with her (Rampersad 4) but his mother showed no interest to be with her son (Bloom, Bloom's 12). On the contrary, he vigorously loathed his "runaway" father (Rampersad 4). Without parents, his maternal grandmother, Mary Langston, in Lawrence Kansas raised the writer of verse (Andrews, Foster, Harris 369). Mary's first husband rode with John Brown on the attack of Harper's Ferry in 1859 (Bloom, Bloom's 11). Her second husband recruited soldiers for the fifty-fourth and

fifty-fifth Massachusetts regiment (Bloom, Bloom's 11). Being married to two men who aided in ending slavery, Mary raised young Hughes on the stories of her family's ancestors who fought to end slavery (Bloom, Bloom's 11). From his grandmother he learned the need to struggle on behalf of the ideals of social justice and African American progress (Smith 367). The absence of his mother and aging grandmother made him unhappy and very lonesome (Smith 368). Arnold Rampersad states, "Hughes grew up a motherless and fatherless child who never forgot the hurts of his childhood (1)." Hughes childhood was a struggle with desolation from parental neglect (Andrews, Foster, Harris 368) and a constant struggle with being caught between the black and white worlds (Rampersad 3).

The "rhapsodist" was a exceedingly well educated man. While in high school, he read the poetry of Carl Sandburg and Walt Whitman (Bloom, Bloom's 12). Sandburg was decisive in leading him toward free verse and a radically democratic, modernist aesthetic (Andrews, Foster, Harris 368). Andrews states, "Hughes called Sandburg, his guiding star (368)." After graduating high school, eager to experience New York and especially Harlem, Hughes entered Colombia University in the fall of 1921 (Bloom, Bloom's 12). However, his first encounter with college was unpleasant (Bloom, Bloom's 12). Subsequently, he left his freshman year and became a merchant seamen in Europe and Africa (Rampersad 8). Plagued with money problems, Hughes came back to the United States in 1924 and began to take his writhing seriously (Rampersad 8). In 1926, at the age of twenty-four, Hughes entered himself into Lincoln University in Pennsylvania (Rampersad 8). It was during that time he published his first book of poetry, The Weary Blues, which was grouped according to seven romantic ideas, and sixty-eight poems under seven headings (Bloom, Bloom's 15). The volume earned him a place at the forefront of the Harlem Renaissance (Bloom, Bloom's 12).

In 1927, an old white woman, Charlotte Manson, became Hughes benefactor offering moral and material support for him (Rampersad 10). "The Blues I'm Playing", a short story, is thought to be written by Hughes because of the falling out he had with his white patron in 1930 (Smith 372). By the 1930's he was a reasonably established witer; he wrote plays throughout the 1930's but made little money and was living close to poverty (Smith372). In the early 1940's Hughes wrote songs in support of the war effort and in a vain hope of a commercial hit (Smith 372).

Throughout Hughes life he was "tormented" with loneliness and struggles. He died quietly alone in a hospital in Harlem on May 22,1967, never marrying or having no known man or woman lover, and not having any known children (Rampersad 5). Arnold Rampersad says of the poet, "Hughes will always be remembered as a prominent author who was born to struggle (8)."

During the author's lifetime he has published sixteen books of poetry, two novels, seven collections of short fiction, two autobiographies, four books of nonfiction, ten books for children, and more than twenty-five plays (Bloom, Bloom's 13). Valerie Smith states, "Hughes early poems captured sights and sounds of black worship (Glory!, Hallelujah!) (369)." Hughes has written many poems and short stories that impacted and defined him as a writer, for example, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers", a poem that ties black history to the rivers of the world (Bloom, Major 950). Critics both white and black positively review the poem. (Bloom, Major 950). "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" is acclaimed for Hughes' passionate acceptance of his races, his embracing of heritage, and his reclaiming of black origins (Bloom, Major 950). "The acclaimed poem is thought to be a poem of his authentic voice", states Harold Bloom in Major Black American Writers: Through the Harlem Renaissance on page 950. "It is thought that the poem was his first major literary response to the racism and segregation he personally encountered", according to Valerie Smith (368). In addition to "The Negro Speaks of Rivers", another one of Hughes major poems is, "The Negro Mother." "The Negro Mother" was written to reach the masses of black people and for the purpose of black mothers calling to their children to take control of their future, to live with freedom and dignity (Bloom, Major 953). The poem is referred to as a heritage poem, highly lyrical, and employed both a regular rhyme scheme and meter (Bloom, Major 953). The intention of the poem is to be pleasant



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