Langston Hughes contributed a tremendous influence on black culture throughout the United States during the era known as the Harlem Renaissance. He is usually considered to be one of the most prolific and most-recognized black poets of the Harlem Renaissance. He broke through barriers that very few black artists had done before this period. Hughes was presented with a great opportunity with the rise black art during the 1920’s and by his creative style of poetry, which used black culture as its basis and still appealed to all ethnicities.
Until the Harlem Renaissance, poetry and literature were dominated by white people and were all about white culture. However, during the 1920’s, there was an explosion of black literature and, art poured from black artists and activists who represented black pride and individuality from the white dominance (“The Harlem Renaissance, Washington…” Online). This movement was sparked in the lower and upper Manhattan sections of New York City. Originally known as the New Negro Movement, it later became known as the Harlem Renaissance due to where it was birthed and seemed to be the area that it burned the most intense.
One of the reasons why there was a rise in black culture in the Harlem area is due to the great migration of blacks to Northern cities during the early 1920’s. Racial discrimination, segregation, and interracial tension were also contributing factors to the Harlem Renaissance. Blacks were tired of being part of white America and wanted to break free and express not only black pride but, black culture as well. Langston Hughes emerged as one of the front men of the black movement of expression and art through the use of his poetic writing (“Harlem Renaissance” Online).
Hughes wrote novels, plays, short stories, essays, and children’s books but, he focused most of his attention on poems. Most of Hughes better-known poems were written at the height of the Harlem Renaissance. Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri, where he was raised primarily by his mother (Howes and Slovey 56). In 1921 Hughes enrolled at Columbia University in New York City. While in New York, Hughes became more intrigued with the rise of black culture in Harlem as opposed to his schoolwork. During the course of the next few years Hughes would make a name for himself with some of his famous works such as the poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and his book The Weary Blues (Howes and Slovey 58). However, he first gained recognition from some of his poems that were put in an anthology called The New Negro. He gained praise from not only blacks but, also from white supporters of the Harlem Renaissance (Strickland 31). He had made his way into the mainstream of great poets and was making an impact for not only himself but for the black community with his creative poetic style (Wagner 386).
How could one black man stand above all the other emerging black artists as much as Langston Hughes did? Hughes wanted to speak for the black community which he was so immersed in. He wanted to do it in a way though that the readers, especially blacks, were able to relate on a personal level to his poems. He did this by use modern forms such as free verse where he did not have to follow a pattern or use rhymes. He sought to make his poetry easy to understand but at the same time portray black culture with both realism and dignity (Howes and Slovey 59).
He also wrote in black dialect and used black culture such as jazz to present his poems. He would not only use the freedom in his poems like jazz did but, he would also write to the rhythm and beat of jazz music which made it flow with a different style. He spoke of both the low times and the good times of the black community (Strickland 32). The style, the simplicity, and the culture that was presented in Hughes poems are what made him shine above other black artists. This is how one man went off on his own path and affected black literature as much as he did.
Hughes affected the world of poetry during an era that was enriched with the rise black culture by using his own creative style. He drew not just the black communities praise but, the dominating white cultures as well. He has proven by his success to be one of the greatest influences during the Harlem Renaissance. He made a path for both the black community in general and the world of poetry on the whole.
“Harlem Renaissance.” MSN Encarta. 3 November 2004 .
Howes, Kelly, and Christine Slovey, eds. Harlem Renaissance. San Francisco: Gale
Kovacs, Joe. “The Harlem Renaissance, Washington, DC and the Rise of Langston
Hughes.” Literary Traveler. 3 November 2004 .
Strickland, Michael. African-American Poets. Berkeley Heights: Enslow Publishers,
Wagner, Jean. Black Poets of the United States from Paul Laurence Dunbar to Langston
Hughes. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1973.
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