Langston Hughes Other literary forms

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

In addition to his prolific production of poetry, Langston Hughes wrote, translated, edited, and collaborated on works in a number of other genres. He wrote two novels, Not Without Laughter (1930) and Tambourines to Glory (1958), and produced several volumes of short stories, including The Ways of White Folks (1934), Laughing to Keep from Crying (1952), and Something in Common, and Other Stories (1963). Hughes’s short fiction also includes several collections of stories about his urban folk philosopher, Jesse B. Semple (Simple): Simple Speaks His Mind (1950), Simple Takes a Wife (1953), Simple Stakes a Claim (1957), The Best of Simple (1961), and Simple’s Uncle Sam (1965).

Hughes published several works for young people, including the story Popo and Fifina: Children of Haiti (1932), with Arna Bontemps; biographies of black Americans in Famous American Negroes (1954), Famous Negro Music Makers (1955), and Famous Negro Heroes of America (1958); and a series of “first book” histories for young people, such as The First Book of Negroes (1952), The First Book of Jazz (1955), and The First Book of Africa (1960).

Hughes’s histories for adult readers include Fight for Freedom: The Story of the NAACP (1962) and two pictorial histories in collaboration with Milton Meltzer, A Pictorial History of the Negro in America (1956) and Black Magic: A Pictorial History of the Negro in American Entertainment (1967). Other experimental volumes of photo essays are The Sweet Flypaper of Life (1955), with photographs by Roy DeCarava, and Black Misery (1969), with illustrations by Arouni.

Major translations by Hughes include Cuba Libre by Nicolás Guillén (1948), with Ben Carruthers; Gypsy Ballads by Federico García Lorca (1951); and Selected Poems of Gabriela Mistral (1957).

Hughes was also productive as a playwright, although his plays did not enjoy much critical or financial success. They include Mulatto (pb. 1935), Little Ham (pr. 1935), Simply Heavenly (pr. 1957), based on the characters in his Simple stories; and Tambourines to Glory (pr., pb. 1963), adapted from his novel. The last play was billed as a “gospel song-play,” and Hughes created several other plays in that category: Black Nativity (pr. 1961), Jerico-Jim Crow (pr. 1964), and The Prodigal Son (pr. 1965). These productions are of interest mainly because they underscore Hughes’s heartfelt sympathy with the black folk life of America, a love affair he carried on throughout his works.

Hughes wrote the libretti for several operas, a screenplay—Way Down South (1939), with Clarence Muse—radio scripts, and song lyrics. His most famous contribution to musical theater, however, was the lyrics he wrote for Kurt Weill and Elmer Rice’s musical adaptation of Rice’s Street Scene (pr., pb. 1947).

Over the years, Hughes also wrote several nonfiction articles, mainly focused on his role as a poet and his love of black American music—jazz, gospel, and the blues. Perhaps his most important article was his first: “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain,” published in The Nation on June 23, 1926, in defense of the idea of a black American literary style, voice, and subject matter.

Anthologies of Hughes’s work include The Langston Hughes Reader (1958), and Five Plays (1963), edited by Walter Smalley. Hughes himself edited many volumes of work by black American writers, including The Poetry of the Negro, 1746-1949 (1949), with Arna Bontemps; The Book of Negro Folklore (1959), also with Bontemps; New Negro Poets: U.S.A. (1964); The Book of Negro Humor (1966); and The Best Short Stories by Negro Writers: An Anthology from 1899 to the Present (1967).

He also wrote two volumes of autobiography, The Big Sea: An Autobiography (1940) and I Wonder as I Wander: An Autobiographical Journey (1956). A planned third volume was not completed.