Langston Hughes was a poet, fiction writer, and activist who was greatly influenced by Harlem, jazz, and African American life and art. Google celebrates the late Hughes’ 113th birthday with a Google Doodle.
An animated caricature of Hughes at a typewriter and his poem, “I Dream a World” are depicted in the Doodle video, and below a choir sings the poem.
He was born James Mercer Langston Hughes on February 1, 1902 in Joplin, Mississippi, and published his first book of poetry, The Weary Blues, in 1926. He wrote a lot about being lonely while growing up. Soon after his birth, parents James Hughes and Carrie Langston broke up, and his father moved to Mexico.
Hughes was raised by his maternal grandmother, until she died when he was in his teens. He then went to live in Cleveland, Ohio, with his mother and was exposed to the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar, Walt Whitman, and Carl Sandburg.
Langston Hughes was the leading voice in an era known as the “Harlem Renaissance,” a time when the “New Negro” refused to submit to racial segregation and advocated for civil rights. It was also a period when black writers, artists, and musicians forged an identity through the arts. Vachel Lindsay was impressed with Hughes’ poetry and became his patron.
He loved jazz and wove its rhythms into poetry. In 1958, Hughes recited one of his poems, “The Weary Blues,” while accompanied by a jazz band.
Perhaps his best known poem is “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” but Hughes was not limited to poetry, writing novels, short stories, plays, and newspaper columns. He was prolific and one of the first black writers who could support himself solely through writing.
His best-known short fiction features Jesse B. Semple, who tells stories of everyday black American life to an educated man — a stand in for the real-life Hughes — over beers at a Harlem bar. The Best of Simple is a collection of these stories, which originally appeared in the Chicago Defender.
Hughes attended New York’s Columbia University, left due to racism, but later obtained a college degree from Pennsylvania’s Lincoln University.
Although he was bullied by prejudiced classmates as a child, there was one boy who always defended him.
“And ever since, it has seemed to me that most people are generally good, in every race and in every country where I have been.”
Langston Hughes died on May 22, 1967 from complications related to prostate cancer. His ashes are interred beneath a floor medallion at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem.
[Images: Google and Biography.com]