Brief profile: Langston Hughes

by Duke Magazine

James Mercer Langston Hughes (February 1, 1901– May 22, 1967),

was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist. 

Hughes became a prolific writer at a tender age. Although he dropped out, but yet, he got recognised from New York publishers, first in ‘The Crisis’ magazine, and then from book publishers and became known in the world of creativity in Harlem.

He eventually graduated from Lincoln University. In addition to poetry, Hughes wrote plays, and short stories. He also published several non-fiction works. As the civil rights movement was gathering momentum between 1942 and 1962, he wrote an in-depth weekly column in a leading black newspaper, ‘The Chicago Defender’.

Hughes was able stress a racial consciousness and cultural nationalism devoid of self-hate. His optimistic thought united people of African descent and Africans across the world to pride in their diverse black folk culture and black aesthetic. Hughes was one of the few popular black writers to set the pace for racial consciousness as a source of inspiration for black artists. 
His first novel, ‘Not Without Laughter’ in 1930, won him the Harmon Gold Medal in literature.

Hughes’ first collection of short stories was published in 1934 with ‘The Ways of White Folks’.

From the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s, Hughes’ popularity among the younger generation of black writers variably grew, even as his prominence increased worldwide. With the gradual advance toward racial integration,  many black writers considered his writings of black pride and its corresponding subject matter out of date.

Politically, Hughes was drawn to Communism as the best alternative to a segregated America.

Hughes has won innumerable awards and recognitions in life and in memorial for his great contribution of enlightenment onto black world. Some of them are; Witter Bynner Undergraduate Poetry Prize in 1926; Honorary Litt.D by Lincoln University; Black Heritage series of postage stamps by the United States Postal Service in 2002 among other awards for pace setting.

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