How did Langston Hughes poems influence the Harlem Renaissance?

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Lynn Ramsson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

By writing about the black experience in America in a matter-of-fact and authentic way, Langston Hughes presented the lives of black Americans as real and valuable. His contributions to the literature of the Harlem Renaissance encouraged other black poets to be themselves, as he was wholly himself in his art, refusing to conform to expectations anyone may have set on him, including those of other black people. Hughes prized the individual as well as the culture of black people in a more general sense, and many of his poems convey this sense of pride in himself and in his culture.

Poems like "Harlem Sweeties" and "I Too" celebrate the beauty of being black, while other poems like "Brass Spittoons" and "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" chronicle excerpts from black history. Hughes writes in a musical style influenced by jazz in poems like "The Weary Blues" and "Blues in Stereo." All of these literary contributions, and more, are characterized by Hughes's accessible style, which ensures that his readership, back during the Harlem Renaissance and all the way up to the present, is broad.

Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hughes's poems influenced the Harlem Renaissance for two reasons. First, because he was elemental in exposing the reality of conditions for African-Americans in the 40s and 50s. But perhaps even more meaningful was instilling both a sense of pride and hope: pride in their culture and hope that the American Dream extended beyond "whiteness."

Hughes's poem, "I, Too" is a good example of this argument:

I, too, sing America.I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.Tomorrow,
I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,"
Then. Besides,They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed--I, too, am America.