Hughes was a true Renaissance man, a term meaning that he was expert in many different fields, but he received his best critical response for his poetry and fiction. Sometimes, though, critics would not recognize that Hughes was writing for an undereducated audience and would accuse the writer himself of being remedial and marginally talented. Harry Allan Potamkin, for example, recognized what Hughes was trying to do—use the American folk music tradition in poetry—but he did not think it was a feat that took much skill. “Whatever value as poetry the Negro spirituals or blues may have,” Potamkin wrote in the Nation, “duplicate spirituals or blues have only duplicate values. In the conformation of the inherent qualities of these indigenous songs to an original personal intelligence or intuition lies the poetic performance. And Mr. Hughes has not made the material so perform.” In short, Potamkin believed the blues could be made into good poetry if an author put his original ideas into his work, but he did not think that Hughes added enough of himself. Famed novelist James Baldwin, reviewing Selected Poems of Langston Hughes in the New York Times Book Review in 1959, categorized the works as “poems which almost succeed but do not succeed, poems which take refuge, finally, in a fake simplicity in order to avoid the very difficult simplicity of experience.”
The majority of critics, though, appreciate and approve of...
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