Langston Hughes

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Langston Hughes

February 26, 2018- Today's Harlem Topic: Langston Hughes
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Hughes came to prominence during the early nineteen twenties and became one of the founding fathers of the Harlem Renaissance.

His first important work “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” was published in 1921 in The Crisis magazine and brought him a great deal of attention.
He attended Columbia University for a short time before traveling to Africa, Spain and Paris for close to two years.

Upon returning to the United States in 1924 he published one of his most well-known works “The Weary Blues”.  It won first prize in Opportunity magazine’s literary competition which included a grand prize of a scholarship to Lincoln University.

Hughes was extremely influential during the Harlem Renaissance era alongside his contemporaries, Zora Neale Hurston,  Claude McKay and Aaron Douglas.
His poetry and fiction portrayed the lives of working-class men and women in the African-American community. 

It also promoted pride in the African-American identity and its diverse culture.

Hughes explained:   "My seeking has been to explain and illuminate the Negro condition in America and obliquely that of all human kind."

He confronted racial stereotypes, protested social conditions, and expanded African America’s image of itself.

Langston Hughes had a great respect for jazz which found it’s way into his writing style.  He felt that jazz poetry could be a uniquely African American literary form.  
His writings often incorporated syncopated rhythms and a type of phrasing that reflected the improvisatory nature of jazz.

The final stanza of The Weary Blues is a perfect example:
“Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor.
He played a few chords then he sang some more—
     “I got the Weary Blues
       And I can’t be satisfied.
       Got the Weary Blues
       And can’t be satisfied—
       I ain’t happy no mo’
       And I wish that I had died.
And far into the night he crooned that tune.
The stars went out and so did the moon.
The singer stopped playing and went to bed
While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.
He slept like a rock or a man that’s dead.”

Hughes was featured reciting his poetry on the 1959 album Weary Blues with music by Charles Mingus and Leonard Feather.  He also contributed lyrics to Randy Weston's Uhuru Afrika in 1960.

Hughes died in New York City in 1967.   His ashes are interred beneath a floor medallion in the middle of the foyer in the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem. It is the entrance to an auditorium named for him. The design on the floor is an African cosmogram entitled Rivers. The title is taken from his poem "The Negro Speaks of Rivers". Within the center of the cosmogram is the line: "My soul has grown deep like the rivers.”

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