Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Langston Hughes

My soul has grown deep like the rivers

One of my favorite poets was born on this day February 1, Langston Hughes. He was a writer of plays, novels, children's books, poetry, short stories, operettas and newspaper columns. Hughes was probably the foremost poet among African Americans and the first to make a living from his work. He sought not only to sing of Black America in his poems, but to do it in everyday language. He was the first and most successful writer to incorporate African-American musical traditions like blues, jazz and spirituals into literature. In 1926 he published his first book of poetry The Weary Blues. He was one of the earliest innovators of the new literary art form jazz poetry. Despite all his travels and moves, Harlem remained central in his life during the 1920's. He was most impressed with the writings of Walt Whitman and Carl Sandburg. During the Harlem Renaissance his literary works helped shape American literature and politics. Through his poetry, novels, essays and children's books he promoted equality, condemned racism and injustice.
One of his poems was turned into a children's book My People with photographs by Charles R. Smith Jr. Even though the book is a brief 33 words long it provides a heartfelt and moving tribute to the beauty of "my people." The photographs are wonderful that accompany the text.
Dreams are a recurring theme in Hughes's work. For Hughes poets are not just dreamers but dream keepers for their people.
The Dream Keeper
Bring me all your dreams,
You dreamers,
Bring me all of your
Heart melodies
That I may wrap them
In a blue-cloud cloth
Away from the too-rough fingers
of the world.
Another book I'd like to recommend is Poetry for Young People Langston Hughes edited by David Roessel and Arnold Rampersad. There is a great introduction/summary of his life and each poem written has information on the meaning Hughes was trying to convey.
The following poem has a powerful message
I, too, sing America
I am the darker brother,
They send me to the eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I'll be at the table
When company comes,
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen"

They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed-

I, too am America.

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