Happy Birthday Langston Hughes!

Artist: Winold Reiss, c.1925, Courtesy of flickr

When I was in second grade, I fell in love with a poet. This was the first time I remember truly being in awe of words and their power, and I carried around his maroon book for a solid couple of months. It was The Dream Keeper and other Poems by Langston Hughes from 1932. Hughes’ poems are able keep communicating his inspirational message to young people even today.

James Mercer Langston Hughes was born February 1, 1902 in Joplin, Missouri. His grandmother raised him after his parents divorced and his father moved to Mexico when he was young. It wasn’t until the tender age of thirteen that he moved to Lincoln, Illinois to be raised by his mother and stepfather. When they finally settled in Cleveland, Ohio, his sojourn into poetry began.

The years after Hughes’ graduation from high school were full of constant change and adventure. He spent a year in Mexico, then a year attending Colombia University in New York. He also traveled all over Africa and Europe earning pay as a seaman. He finally somewhat settled down in November of 1924 when he moved to Washington D.C. and published his first book of poetry, The Weary Blues, in 1926. He graduated from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania three years later.

When someone mentions the name “Langston Hughes,” his original portrayal of African American lives in the U.S. from the twenties to the sixties comes to mind. His work is credited with acting as an artistic influence that shaped 1920’s Harlem Renaissance.

Photo Courtesy of WikiMedia Commons

Throughout this career he received backlash from some of the African American citizens of America along with the praise. Some claims stated that Hughes was only showing the grittier side of African Americans in his works, and this wasn’t the typical representation of them as a whole.

Hughes responded to such claims by saying that he sees the need for the types of books they wanted, but “[he] personally knew very few people anywhere who were wholly beautiful and wholly good.” Humorously, he also said that he didn’t know enough about upper class African Americans to write about them anyway. Instead, he wrote about the people he grew up with, “and they weren’t people whose shoes were always shined, who had been to Harvard, or who had heard of Bach. But they seemed to me good people, too.”

Between his birth and his death in 1967 he authored an impressive 60 books. He was a great poet and wordsmith who made real change with each publication. But, to me, he will always be the magical author of The Dream Keeper and other Poems with the maroon cover frayed and stained, but loved by a young girl, the one who wrote:

Bring me all of your dreams,

You dreamer,

Bring me all your

Heart melodies

That I may wrap them

In a blue cloud-cloth

Away from the too-rough fingers

Of the world

(Langston Hughes, “The Dream Keeper”).

What an incredible introduction to the historic month of February, otherwise known as Black History Month. Happy Birthday Langston Hughes.