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The Harlem Renaissance, which developed in Harlem, New York, in the 1920s, was an inspiring time and period of prosperity for the African American community. A time when African-Americans could express themselves musically, poetically, and through any other creative outlet. Individuals delved deeper into their roots and used it as a wellspring of inspiration to be fulfilled and content. The Harlem Renaissance era spawned many impactful personalities who contributed to building the voice of the African-American community. Among them is the American poet Langston Hughes. Langston Hughes was more than a poet. He was additionally a civil rights leader, novelist, and dramatist. He immigrated from Missouri to New York City, where his career started in his youth. Several experiences, including life changes, affected and formed the manner in which Langston Hughes wrote his works. His art was grounded mainly on his emotions and background understanding of the topic.
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The journey of Langston Hughes’ contribution to the Harlem Renaissance
James Mercer Langston Hughes commonly referred to as Langston Hughes, was born in Joplin, Missouri, on February 1, 1902. Shortly after he was born, his parents separated. He was brought up by his grandmother Marry Patterson Langston in Kansas until the age of 12. Growing up under the tutelage of his grandmother, he learned more and more about his heritage, and thus cultivated a sense of pride in his race. Hughes was later brought up in Illinois with his mother and stepfather, and eventually relocated to Ohio. Hughes’ youth was extremely dynamic because of his frequent moves. During his time in public schools in Illinois, he developed a passion for poetry because he was perceived as the “Class Poet.” In Ohio, Hughes studied at Central High School, where he composed a number of poems, short stories, and dramas. “When Sue Wears Red” became the first work of jazz poetry authored by Hughes in high school.
When he finished high school in 1920, Hughes traveled to Mexico to encounter his father. During the trip, he wrote “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”. His purpose for visiting his father, whom he did not often see, was to try to persuade his dad to support him to fulfill his desire to enter Columbia University in New York. As a result, Hughes studied at Columbia University with a B- average, but eventually dropped out in 1922 because of the racial discrimination he faced at the institution. Regardless of the backlash he experienced, Hughes was successful in writing multiple poems that resulted in his first poetry collection, The Weary Blues. In 1925, The Weary Blues received the first award in a poetry contest. The magazine Crisis organized a poetry competition in which two of Hughes’s works were honored. This brought him prominence and also attracted the interest of the writer and critic Carl Van Vechten, who contributed to the publication of the first edition of The Weary Blues in 1926.
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In 1925, Hughes went back to college and studied at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. He joined the Omega Psi Phi brotherhood. Hughes received his Bachelor’s Degree in 1929 and made his way back home to New York. Meanwhile, Hughes contributed to the magazine Fire!!! (1926), as well as another poetry collection called Fine Clothes to The Jew (1927). In 1930, Langston Hughes’s novel Not Without Laughter was released. This novel was inspired by certain experiences he had observed while living in Lawrence, Kansas. The novel received the Harmon Gold Medal for Literature.
With a keen eye for theater, Hughes penned his first play, Mulatto, which was produced on Broadway in 1935 by Martin Jones. The Mulatto played for 11 months and 373 shows. The play was about the relationship between a father and son, as well as life in the South in the 1930s. Hughes also composed a number of other plays throughout the 1930s. Most of his pieces were not as well-received as Mulatto, but they were still directed and acted upon. Hughes was not just a poet, but also a founder of theater organizations. The Harlem Suitcase Theater was established in 1938 and the other theater in Los Angeles in 1939. “Don’t You Want to Be Free?” — is a spectacular play that was produced at The Harlem Suitcase Theater.
During the Second World War, Hughes completed the first part of his autobiography, The Big Sea, in 1940. The autobiography is told from a humorous standpoint. The other major work he wrote during the war was in a weekly column for the Chicago Defender, launched in 1905, with a predominantly African American readership. It ran for 20 years with a central and favorite persona from Harlem, Jesse B. Semple or Simple. Semple mostly expressed himself on racial themes. This piece turned out to be one of Hughes’s favorite works. For three decades, beginning in 1932, Hughes kept getting recognized and receiving awards. Among the awards Hughes received were the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal in 1960, the Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts in the United States and Canada in 1935, and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Fiction in 1954.