Friday, May 14, 2010

Langston Hughes...

James Mercer Langston Hughes was born February 1, 1902 to mixed raced parents.  Langston Hughes was of African American, European American and Native American descent.  He was an American poet, novelist, playwright, short story writer, and columnist. He was one of the earliest innovators of the new literary art form jazz poetry. Hughes is best-known for his work during the Harlem Renaissance.  He famously wrote about the Harlem Renaissance saying that "Harlem was in vogue."

Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri.  While in grammar school in Lincoln, Illinois, Hughes was elected class poet. Hughes stated in retrospect he thought it was because of the stereotype that African Americans have rhythm.  "I was a victim of a stereotype. There were only two of us Negro kids in the whole class and our English teacher was always stressing the importance of rhythm in poetry. Well, everyone knows — except us — that all Negroes have rhythm, so they elected me as class poet."  During high school in Cleveland, Ohio, he wrote for the school newspaper, edited the yearbook, and began to write his first short stories, poetry, and dramatic plays. His first piece of jazz poetry, "'When Sue Wears Red", was written while he was still in high school. It was during this time that he discovered his love of books. From this early period in his life, Hughes would cite as influences on his poetry the American poets Paul Laurence Dunbar and Carl Sandburg.

Hughes had a very poor relationship with his father.  He lived with his father in Mexico for a brief period in 1919.  Upon graduating from high school in June 1920, Hughes returned to live with his father, hoping to convince him to provide money to attend Columbia University. Hughes later said that, prior to arriving in Mexico again:  “ I had been thinking about my father and his strange dislike of his own people. I didn't understand it, because I was a Negro, and I liked Negroes very much."

Initially, his father had hoped for Hughes to attend a university abroad, and to study for a career in engineering. On these grounds, he was willing to provide financial assistance to his son. James Hughes did not support his son's desire to be a writer. Eventually, Langston and his father came to a compromise. Langston would study engineering, so long as he could attend Columbia. His tuition provided, Hughes left his father after more than a year of living with him. While at Columbia in 1921, Hughes managed to maintain a B+ grade average. He left in 1922 because of racial prejudice within the institution, and his interests revolved more around the neighborhood of Harlem than his studies, though he continued writing poetry.

In November 1924, Hughes returned to the U. S. to live with his mother in Washington, D.C. Hughes again found work doing various odd jobs before gaining white-collar employment in 1925 as a personal assistant to the historian Carter G. Woodson at the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. Not satisfied with the demands of the work and its time constraints that limited his writing, Hughes quit to work as a busboy in a hotel. It was while working as a busboy that Hughes would encounter the poet Vachel Lindsay. Impressed with the poems Hughes showed him, Lindsay publicized his discovery of a new black poet. By this time, Hughes' earlier work had already been published in magazines and was about to be collected into his first book of poetry.

The following year, Hughes enrolled in Lincoln University, a historically black university in Chester County, Pennsylvania. There he became a member of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, a black fraternal organization founded at Howard University in Washington, D.C.  Thurgood Marshall, who later became an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, was an alumnus and classmate of Langston Hughes during his undergraduate studies at Lincoln University.  Hughes earned a B.A. degree from Lincoln University in 1929. He then moved to New York. Except for travels to areas that included parts of the Caribbean, Hughes lived in Harlem as his primary home for the remainder of his life.

Former residence of Langston Hughes in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C.Some academics and biographers today believe that Hughes was a homosexual and included homosexual codes in many of his poems, similar in manner to Walt Whitman, whose work Hughes cited as another influence on his poetry. Hughes' story "Blessed Assurance" deals with a father's anger over his son's effeminacy and queerness.  To retain the respect and support of black churches and organizations and avoid exacerbating his precarious financial situation, Hughes remained closeted.

Arnold Rampersad, the primary biographer of Hughes, determined that Hughes exhibited a preference for other African-American men in his work and life.  However, Rampersad denies Hughes' homosexuality in his biography as well.  Rampersad comes to the conclusion that Hughes was probably asexual and passive in his sexual relationships. He did, however show a respect and love for his fellow white man (and woman). Still, others argue for Hughes' homosexuality: his love of black men is evidenced in a number of reported unpublished poems to an alleged black male lover.

On May 22, 1967, Langston Hughes died from complications after abdominal surgery, related to prostate cancer, at the age of 65.

...the more we know, the taller we stand.

*Taken from Wikipedia

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