Born in Missouri in 1902, Langston Hughes-- black poet, playwright, novelist, and short-story writer-- never seemed able to set down roots for himself. By nature a sensitive and shy child, the young Langston was shuffled from home to home, relative to relative, which undoubtedly added to his already strong sense of loneliness and isolation and probably instilled in him a restlessness he could never overcome.
Yet all his moving about from place to place, from odd job to odd job, always making only just enough money to move on, served to draw the normally shy poet into a rich variety of experiences. And these experiences helped him gain a deep sense of his own people, his country, and the world.
Langston Hughes' art reflects this deep understanding of black people. But it also expresses a great love of them. In fact, much of Langston's poetry tries to capture the rhythms of blues music, the music he believed to be the true expression of the black spirit. Langston was always a man involved, involved in what was happening everywhere. With a group of talented young black artists and writers, he shared in the excitement of the "Harlem Renaissance" of the 1920s. And with them he watched the hopes of his people fade with the economic horrors of the Great Depression. In 1936 he went to Spain to get material for a series of newspaper articles on the Spanish Civil War. While, there he became permanently dedicated to working for the ideal of freedom for people everywhere. When his own country failed to respond to its black people's demands for civil rights and an end to race prejudice, Langston's art, always before so good-humored, patient, and persuasive, became angry and insistent.
But throughout his career Langston sought to express, in both his speaking and his literature, the heroism he saw in his people-- strength to endure without bitterness. This is one reason why his art will always hold a significant place in black American literature. And because of the great sensitivity, humor, beauty and truth contained in that art, Langston Hughes' work will also always find a place int he main body of great American Literature.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
JAMES HASKINS is the author of over 90 books for adult trade and young adult audiences. His James van DerZee: The Picture Takin' Man was republished by Africa World Press, Inc. in 1991. He is a professor of English at the University of Florida, Gainesville.
Biography, History/AFRICAN AMERICAN