The life of Langston Hughes is a doubly fascinating one. On the one hand, Hughes achieved a success unprecedented by any earlier black writer. Primarily as a poet but also as a playwright, novelist, and humor columnist, Hughes became the first black American to support himself solely by his writing; and from the time of the Harlem “Renaissance” in the 1920’s to his death in 1967, his critical reputation was secure as one of the leading black literary artists of the twentieth century.
On the other hand, Hughes was acutely aware of the many struggles for social justice of his time, and he was both determined to play a role in these struggles and deeply ambivalent about his own success in the dominant white culture of the United States.
Hughes ha already been the subject of a number of competent biographies, and Arnold Rampersad’s book holds no major surprises or new revelations about his subject. Yet Rampersad’s study has already been hailed as the definitive biography of Hughes, for it is outstanding both in the range and depth of its research, as well as in its careful balance of a sympathetic tone with scrupulous accuracy. Rampersad is not overeager to dig deeper into the psyche of his subject than previous biographers have; indeed, he makes the inexplicable mystery of Hughes’s personality the central theme of his book. In lieu of a psychological approach, he has made good use of all the documentary evidence left behind by Hughes...
(The entire section is 464 words.)