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Writing, in its simplest definition, is an action where one takes pen to paper. Often times, writing is overlooked, because as a part of language, it has been a part of the human experience for centuries. Most importantly, writing is the strongest tool as a means for expression and thought. It cost nothing, yet it is so powerful because it allows the mind to freely be seen.
Throughout time, we have been blessed by people who have used writing so effectively as commanding means for expression. One prime example of such writers is Langston Hughes, who in a time of adversity used writing to partake in a cultural movement known as the Harlem Renaissance. Hughes's writings, which include various novels, short stories, and poems, set forth a stimulating call for inspiration and review of reality in a time where racial diversity was under tension. Hughes was also an example of every writer's unique voyage, because everyone has different things to express and say, and the process is part of the journey.
Langston Hughes was born on the first of February in 1902 in the city of Joplin, Missouri. He was born to mother Carrie Langston and father James Hughes, the latter being the first African-American, from the state of Virginia, to be elected into the United States Congress. As a result of his parents separating, Langston was on the move at a young age with his mother. He ended up under the care of his grandmother in Lawrence, Virginia. Although having to go through various hardships that no child should have to go through, which included "the early separation of his parents, the frequent moving from one place to another, the absence of a father, the presence of poverty and racial discrimination" (Berry 4), Hughes was not deterred, as each difficulty "marked him for life but never made him bitter" (4).
It was not until the death of his grandmother when Hughes was relocated to Lincoln, Illinois with his mother. There he began to experiment with poetry in school, and in eighth grade one of his poems got him recognition as poet of the class. Moving onto Cleveland, Ohio for high school, Hughes's talent began to be recognized by his peers and instructors. In fact, some of Hughes pieces were featured in the Central High School "Monthly", which is described as a "sophisticated high school magazine" (Kansas Heritage).
After completing high school Hughes aspired to attend Columbia University, but before he could he would have to convince his estranged father, who was living in Mexico, to pay for his studies. While en route to Mexico, Hughes wrote the poem "The Negro Speaks of Rivers", which is one of his best known works today (Kansas Heritage).
At the start of the fall in 1921, Hughes successfully enrolled in Columbia University, although staying there only for a year. Soon after, Hughes found refuge in the neighborhood of Harlem. He began to publish work on a regular basis to magazines entitled "Crisis" and "Opportunity". In short time, Hughes was enveloped so much into the intellectual community that he "quickly became an integral part of the arts scene in Harlem, so much so that in many ways he defined the spirit of the age, from a literary point of view" (Kansas Heritage). It was during this time that Hughes was able to associate with the likes of other writers including W.E.B. DuBois, Countee Cullen, and James Weldon Johnson (Kansas Heritage). In 1926, Hughes moved to Pennsylvania and enrolled into the University of Pennsylvania.
At this moment, leftist political influence grew upon Hughes, and he began to be intrigued by socialism. In fact, he submitted poetry to "New Masses", a journal with ties to communism. In 1932, along with a group of other African-Americans, Hughes traveled to the Soviet Union. In 1934 an anthology of short stories were published as "The Ways of the White Folk". These short stories were described as "[being] marked by a general pessimism about race relations, as well as a sardonic realism" (Rampersad 207). The next year Hughes was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship. Continuing on to the end of the 1930s, the theater would receive much attention from Hughes.
Perhaps one of Hughes's most notable features was the creation of an avatar named Jesse B. Semple, in 1943. Although made of fiction, this character "while humorous, also allowed Hughes to discuss very serious racial issues" (Kansas Heritage). The stories on the character were eventually composed into numerous volumes.
With the growing support in the fight for equality and an end to racism, Hughes became a man of status. However, many critics at the time would "[consider] his writings of black pride and its corresponding subject matter out of date" (Rampersad 207).
On May 22, 1967 in the state of New York, as a tragic result of difficulties with prostate cancer, Langston Hughes passed away.
To this day, admirers and critics alike still rave of the work of Langston Hughes. Critics now say that "Hughes meant to represent the race in his writing and he was, perhaps, the most original of all African American poets" (Kansas Heritage). In regards to his desires, "[he] 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" (Poets). Perhaps this is why much of Hughes work is considered such a staple of the Harlem Renaissance.
Another fact of Langston Hughes is that throughout his time as a writer he really never found financial stability. Perhaps money may have not been of such importance back then like it is now, or maybe financial stability was hard to come by at that time for many people, but it showed still how resilient Hughes was in continuing his writing during challenging times.
Perhaps one of Hughes most famous and well-known pieces of writing is the poem entitled "The Negro Speaks of Rivers". Like previously stated, the poem was written while Hughes was en route to visit his father, who was residing in Mexico. But, to be more precise the poem was written when "Hughes was a mere 17 years old, and dedicated to W. E. B. DuBois, it is a sonorous evocation of transcendent essences so ancient as to appear timeless, predating human existence, longer than human memory" (Jemie). The poem is most likely described as one of Hughes's best works because then, and even now, it resonates with so many people, especially African-Americans. Critics support this theory by stating that "In a time and place where black life is held cheap and the days of black men appear to be numbered, the poem is a majestic reminder of the strength and fullness of history, of the source of that life which transcends even ceaseless labor and burning crosses" (Jemie). The most important part of that critique is the mention of history. History must be acknowledged to be remembered upon and used as an inspiration to keep moving forward. This is a statement that rings true to all people.
Langston Hughes, which was one of the great writers of his time, was a prime of example of how writing could be used with such power. He wrote countless poems, short stories, and novels that would ring throughout time. As important, Hughes life as a writer also emphasized the fact of how a writer will always have a unique voyage in the search for expression. Hughes went through many hardships as a child but rather than deterring his future as a writer, those hardships made him stronger and wiser. Hughes writings also show how simple of an action and process, which cost nothing but is so valuable, can be used as a powerful means for expression.