As far back as I can remember, I have adored poetry. I’m especially drawn to the works of poets who courageously dive deeply into their stories… their journeys through life. These are my favorite kinds of poetry: raw and honest tales of joy and of woe. These are the poetic stories which can become eternal.
Writer-poet Langston Hughes (Feb. 1, 1902 – May 22, 1967) was born 111 years ago. Happy Birthday Langston Hughes! I am joined with millions of other readers who continue to be moved by your poetic stories to this day, for your works are eternal.
James Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri. His parents divorced when he was a small child and his father moved to Mexico. He was raised by his grandmother until he was thirteen, when he moved to Lincoln, Illinois to live with his mother and her husband before the family eventually settled in Cleveland, Ohio. It was in Lincoln, Illinois, that Hughes began writing poetry. Following graduation he spent a year in Mexico and a year at Columbia University. During these years he held odd jobs as an assistant cook, launderer, and a busboy, and travelled to Africa and Europe working as a seaman. In 1924 he moved to Washington, D.C. Hughes’s first book of poetry, The Weary Blues, was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1926. He finished his college education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania three years later. In 1930 his first novel, Not Without Laughter, 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, colorful portrayals of black life in America from the twenties through the sixties. He wrote novels, short stories and plays, as well as poetry, and is also known for his engagement with the world of jazz and the influence it had on his writing, as in “Montage of a Dream Deferred.” 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—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 both their suffering and their love of music, laughter, and language itself. Source: Poets.org
Here are a couple of delightful books for readers of all ages to enjoy:
“Langston Hughes: American Poet” By Alice Walker ~ Illustrated by Catherine Deeter
When Langston Hughes was a boy, His grandmother told him true stories of how African people were captured in Africa and brought to America enslaved. She told him about their fight for freedom and justice. Langston loved his grandmother’s stories. To learn more stories and bear more beautiful language, he began to read books. He fell in love with books and decided that one day he would write stories too, true stories about Black people.
When he was only fourteen, Langston wrote his first poem, and for the rest of his life he was always writing — stories and essays and, most of all, poems. He wrote about Black people as he saw them: happy, sad, mad, and beautiful. Through his writing he fought for freedom from inequality and injustice; and his gift of words inspired and influenced many other writers.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker was one writer Langston influenced. In this moving and richly detailed portrait she celebrates the life of an extraordinary man. Accompanied by stunning paintings by artist Catherine Deeter, Langston Hughes: American Poet will introduce a whole new generation to the life and works of a great African American Poet of the twentieth century, and one of the most important poets of all time.
AUTHOR BIO: Alice Walker (b. 1944), one of the United States’ preeminent writers, is an award-winning author of novels, stories, essays, and poetry. In 1983, Walker became the first African-American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction with her novel The Color Purple, which also won the National Book Award. Her other books include The Third Life of Grange Copeland, Meridian, The Temple of My Familiar, and Possessing the Secret of Joy. In her public life, Walker has worked to address problems of injustice, inequality, and poverty as an activist, teacher, and public intellectual.
“My People“ Poem by Langston Hughes ~ Photography by Charles R. Smith Jr.
Langston Hughes’s spare yet eloquent tribute to his people has been cherished for generations. Now, acclaimed photographer Charles R. Smith Jr. interprets this beloved poem in vivid sepia photographs that capture the glory, the beauty, and the soul of being a black American today.
Editorial Review (Amazon.com): “Smith’s knack for pairing poetry and photography is well documented in books such as Hoop Queens (Candlewick, 2003) and Rudyard Kipling’s If (S & S, 2006). Here, his artful images engage in a lyrical and lively dance with Langston Hughes’s brief ode to black beauty. Dramatic sepia portraits of African Americans—ranging from a cherubic, chubby-cheeked toddler to a graying elder whose face is etched with lines-are bathed in shadows, which melt into black backgrounds. The 33 words are printed in an elegant font in varying sizes as emphasis dictates. In order to maximize the effect of the page turn and allow time for meaning to be absorbed, the short phrases and their respective visual narratives often spill over more than a spread. The conclusion offers a montage of faces created with varying exposures, a decision that provides a light-filled aura and the irregularities that suggest historical prints. A note from Smith describes his approach to the 1923 poem. This celebration of the particular and universal will draw a wide audience: storytime participants; students of poetry, photography, and cultural studies; seniors; families. A timely and timeless offering.” ~Wendy Lukehart, Washington DC Public Library