1902 - 1967 Langston Hughes Speaking of Rivers November 11, 2008 Kent State University Presented by Thomas Carli
Biography n n Born James Mercer Langston Hughes on February 1, 1902 in Joplin, Missouri. Because of his parents’ separation he lived mainly with his maternal Grandmother in Lawrence, Kansas. Lived intermittently with his Mother in Detroit and Cleveland as well as with his Father in Mexico. After finishing high school in Cleveland, Ohio Hughes started writing poetry and left country to live with his Father.
Biography n n n Hughes’ Mother supported his poetry while his business minded Father remained in a “deep, scarring conflict” with the poet. Entered Columbia University in 1920 but left after only one year. Worked as a merchant seaman and sailed to Africa. Worked at a nightclub in Paris. Hughes was even a busboy in Washington D. C.
Hughes’ Early Career n n n While working various jobs in the early 1920 s, Hughes was writing and publishing his works in two major African American periodicals: Opportunity and Crisis. Eleven of Hughes’ poems were published in Dr. Alain Locke’s The New Negro (1925). In 1926 Hughes, with the patronage of Carl Van Vechten, published The Weary Blues: Langston’s first volume of poems. Hughes’ essay “The Negro Aritist and the Racial Mountain” appeared in the Nation (1926). Also published in Countee Cullen’s anthology Caroling Dusk (1927).
Hughes’ Early Career n n n Amy Springarn financed his college education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. Charlotte Mason subsidized him between 1928 and 1930 in New York City. Following the publication of Not without Laughter in 1930, the sales and reputation Hughes gained enabled him to support himself. By the 1930 s Hughes was being called “the bard of Harlem. ” Became heavily involved with radical politics and became a strong promoter of the American Communist Party. (*Let America Be America Again)
Hughes’ Career Visited the U. S. S. R. in 1932 and produced a lot of radical writing up to the eve of World War II. n The Great Depression brought an end to much of the African American literary activity. n In 1937, Hughes worked as a news correspondent for the Baltimore Afro. American and covered the Spanish Civil War in Madrid. n By the late 1930 s, Hughes began writing dramas and screenplays as well as started writing an autobiography. n
Hughes’ Career n n n In 1943, he invented Jesse B. Semple, a folksy streetwise character whose prose monologues on race were eventually collected into four volumes of literature. He also created Alberta K. Johnson, Semple’s female equivalent, in his series of “Madam” poems. Hughes published a variety of anthologies for children and adults: First Book of Negroes (1952) ¨ The First Book of Jazz (1955) ¨ The Book of Negro Folklore (1958) ¨ n In 1953, Hughes was called to testify before Senator Joseph Mc. Carthy’s committee for his activities during the 1930 s; the FBI listed him as a security risk until 1959.
A Style All His Own n n Hughes modeled his stanza forms on the improvisatory rhythms of jazz music and adapted the vocabulary of everyday black speech to poetry. Focus of his work was on modern, urban black life. Acknowledged the influence of white American poets such as Walt Whitman and Carl Sandburg. “Hughes did not confuse his pride in African American culture with complacency toward the material deprivations of black life in the United States. ”
The Negro Speaks of Rivers Click here to listen to Langston Hughes' The Negro Speaks of Rivers
Langston Hughes biographer Milton Meltzer remarked “Cross” that when Hughes was living with his grandmother, the book he treasured most was W. E. B. Du. Bois's The of Black Curiously, My olda. Langston man's did not old mention man this fact inlike eithertoofbe “ISouls didn't think. Folk. about being writera white ever. I thought I might autobiographies. Yetor. Meltzer and old mother's that Mary black. Langstonisfrequently read to a his doctor, you know, elsemy a wrote streetcar conductor, what I most Years later, would reply: her grandson the. Hughes first lines If ever from I cursed chapter my 2 white of thatold book: man"The problem of the wanted to be, because at that time you had a belt line, I think, that twentieth century is the problem I takeofmy thecurses colorline, -the back. relation of the darker to Heartbreak went all around. . American That a sort of a major the lighter races oftown. men in. Asia and was Africa, in America and thepleasure islands ofride the for me. Meltzer for a nickel inever those days. You know, I thoughtread I'dthose like to sea. " further stated, If "Again I cursed and my again black Mary old mother Langston I am the American heartbreakwords. "(116) And or then-to the wished boy who she was were in hell, from drive a streetcar be aand conductor on aseparated streetcar theboth restparents, of mywho Rock on which Freedom was living in bitter poverty, I'mwho sorry feared for that evil the "white wish mortgage man" might Stumps its toelife. ” take away his only home, who and at now least I wish once her ranwell. away from his strict The great mistake grandmother, and who was regarded by white school systems and society alike That Jamestown -Langston Hughes as a social liability-then My. Mary old man Langston died long inwould a ago. fine ask big him, house. "How does 1965 it feel to Made be a problem? "(117) My ma died in a shack. I wonder where I'm gonna die, being neither white nor black 1902 - 1967 Speaking of Rivers November 11, 2008 Presented By: Thomas Carli