illustrated portrait of American poet and author Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes

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What were Langston Hughes' major contributions to American Literature?

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Langston Hughes was an American poet who lived from 1902 to 1967. He is considered an important figure in the Harlem Renaissance, a movement of Black artists, writers, and musicians in Harlem and many other American cities in the 1920s.

While Hughes's most celebrated medium is poetry, he also wrote novels, stories, essays, and plays. His large body of work is critically acclaimed, but some of his most highly acclaimed works include Montage of a Dream Deferred (1951); I, Too (1926); and Let America Be America Again (1936), among many others.

His poetry was unique for its time because he chose to focus on the people, and specifically Black people, as his audience, rather than creating poetry only accessible to elite intellectual audiences. His poetry often uses the African American cultural experience as its subject matter, with the goal of illustrating Black life in America in all of its beauty, challenges, and nuances. His works are also heavily influenced by jazz music, which was another influential product of the Black community in the 1920s in the United States.

Hughes's impact on literature was so significant and positive that his home in Harlem is a historical landmark, and the street where that home is located has been renamed "Langston Hughes Place."

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Langston Hughes is an important member of a group of poets commonly referred to as part of the Harlem Renaissance. They came to prominence in the 1920s or the Jazz Age and were extremely important for bringing the voice of the African American community into general prominence and adding to American poetry a unique sensibility that fused the African American experience with poetic forms. Hughes was especially influenced by the rhythms and subject matter of jazz and blues, an influence that adds a characteristic set of rhythmic and syntactical features to his work. He is also important for the way he deals with oppression of black people in the United States, but always allows for the redemptive possibilities of art.

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What was Langston Hughes’ poetic contribution?

I would say that Hughes' greatest and largest contribution to poetry is to bring voice to those who were silenced by the cultural majority.  Hughes' poetry is especially powerful because it speaks for people of color in a nation and in a time where they were not heard.  Yet, I think that Hughes' work can be extrapolated to anyone who is the victim of being silenced, or anyone who seeks to be heard.  So many of his poems seek to bring voices and narratives from margin to center.  This becomes a very large portion of Hughes' writing and his motivation.  I think that this becomes on of his best contributions to the discourse of the time and makes him invaluable for all time.  In his work and his poetry in particular, there is a demand for voices to be heard, for experiences to be acknowledged.  In this light, Hughes' contributions are not only literary, but political and historical, as well.

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