Langston Hughes

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James Mercer Langston Hughes was born February 1, 1902, in Joplin, Missouri. He finished his college education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in 1929. In 1930 his first novel, Not Without Laughter (Knopf, 1930), won the Harmon gold medal for literature. Hughes, who claimed Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Carl Sandburg, and Walt Whitman as his primary influences, is particularly known for his insightful portrayals of black life in America from the twenties through the sixties. He wrote novels, short stories, plays, and poetry, and is also known for his engagement with the world of jazz and the influence it had on his writing, as in his book-length poem Montage of a Dream Deferred (Holt, 1951). His life and work were enormously important in shaping the artistic contributions of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. Unlike other notable black poets of the period such as Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, and Countee Cullen, Hughes refused to differentiate between his personal experience and the common experience of black America. He wanted to tell the stories of his people in ways that reflected their actual culture, including their love of music, laughter, and language itself alongside their suffering. In addition to leaving us a large body of poetic work, Hughes wrote eleven plays and countless works of prose, including the well-known “Simple” books: Simple Speaks His Mind (Simon & Schuster, 1950); Simple Stakes a Claim (Rinehart, 1957); Simple Takes a Wife (Simon & Schuster, 1953); and Simple's Uncle Sam (Hill and Wang, 1965). He edited the anthologies The Poetry of the Negro and The Book of Negro Folklore, wrote an acclaimed autobiography, The Big Sea (Knopf, 1940), and cowrote the play Mule Bone (HarperCollins, 1991) with Zora Neale Hurston. Langston Hughes died of complications from prostate cancer on May 22, 1967, in New York City. Source

Theme for English B

The instructor said,

 

      Go home and write

      a page tonight.

      And let that page come out of you—

      Then, it will be true.

 

I wonder if it’s that simple?

I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.   

I went to school there, then Durham, then here   

to this college on the hill above Harlem.   

I am the only colored student in my class.   

The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem,   

through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,   

Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,   

the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator   

up to my room, sit down, and write this page:

 

It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me   

at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what

I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you.

hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.   

(I hear New York, too.) Me—who?

 

Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.   

I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.   

I like a pipe for a Christmas present,

or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.

I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like

the same things other folks like who are other races.   

So will my page be colored that I write?   

Being me, it will not be white.

But it will be

a part of you, instructor.

You are white—

yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.

That’s American.

Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.   

Nor do I often want to be a part of you.

But we are, that’s true!

As I learn from you,

I guess you learn from me—

although you’re older—and white—

and somewhat more free.

 

This is my page for English B.

Published:

1951

Length:

Regular

Literary Movements:

Harlem Renaissance

Anthology Years:

Themes:

Education & Learning

Identity

Poems of Place

Racial Injustice

Literary Devices:

Alliteration

the repetition of the same letter or sound at the beginning of words appearing in succession

Dialogue

conversation between two or more people as a feature of a book, play, or movie

End Rhyme

when a poem has lines ending with words that sound the same

Pleonasm

the use of more words than necessary to express meaning, redundancy