Langston Hughes was born in 1902, Missouri to an African-American school teacher. After his father left Hughes was raised by his grandmother while his mom left to look for work, his grandmother taught his cultural traditions and histories and instilled a strong sense of racial pride. Around this time he began to love escaping into books and learning. He moved around some more in mid-western towns then went to live with his mother in Illinois before becoming a crewmen aboard the S.S. Malone and traveling to Europe and Africa. He eventually graduated with a degree from Lincoln University and settle down in Harlem where he stayed (more or less) for the rest of his life.
Hughes is probably most famous for his part in the Harlem Renaissance. His works have a wide range – poetry, novels, short stories, plays, children’s books, nonfiction – and received several awards both literary and political. Something I’ve loved about his poems is the movement and rhythm. While doing a little research on Hughes I found out there’s an actual term for this, it’s called Jazz Poetry, which makes a lot of sense. This style of poetry “demonstrates jazz-style rhythm or the feel of improvisation” and is seen in a lot of early 1900s poets like e. e. cummings, T.S. Eliot and eventually evolved into poetry slams and influenced hip-hop music.
I struggled on which of Hughes’ poems to share and finally narrowed it down to 2 – “A Dream Deferred” and “I, Too, Sing America” – both on which capture this idea of Jazz Poetry and are a great sampling of Hughes’ writing.