illustrated portrait of American poet and author Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes

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An analysis of the characteristics and literary works of Langston Hughes

Summary:

Langston Hughes was a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance, known for his insightful, colorful portrayals of black life in America. His works often explored the themes of racial pride, social justice, and the African American experience. Notable works include the poem "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" and the short story collection The Ways of White Folks, which highlight his lyrical prose and commitment to social commentary.

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What are some characteristics of Langston Hughes' poetry?

The poetry of Langston Hughes tends to be almost deceptively simple in style.  If you look at some of his best-known poems—"Harlem, "Jukebox Love Song," "April Rain Song," or "Dreams"—you see that he does not use words that are difficult to understand.  His poetry is incredibly accessible in this way: he isn't writing for elites, for those who expect adherence to traditional notions of what poetry "ought" to be. 

Hughes creates not only beauty but also intense messages with his poems.  He ignores classical forms, instead using jazz and that musical genre's rhythms as inspiration for his poems.  His poems often focus on the experiences of black people, drawing attention and importance to lives and experiences of a group that was (and still is) marginalized by white America.  Therefore, his poems are also, often, vehicles of protest, written to be understood by anyone.

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What are some characteristics of Langston Hughes' poetry?

I would say that one of the most distinctive qualities of Hughes' poetry is how he articulated the condition of "the other."  Hughes was able to bring out the context of what it means to be a person of color in a social setting that had a challenging time (and still does, to an extent) addressing the issue of race and ethnicity.  As part of the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes was able to make the argument that American progress and optimism, so present during the 1920s, had to be tempered with the understanding that only a part of American Society was being addressed.  Hughes and other writers like him were able to talk about the "insider" vs. "outsider" dynamic with a disarming clarity and lucidity to their work.  In assessing the lasting impact of Hughes' work, one could make the argument that he was the logical extension of poets such as Whitman and Emerson, who strove to give the nation voice as it expanded and integrated multiple notions of the good into its frame of reference.  It is in this where Hughes' work is distinctive, in that it spoke of a condition of marginalization and social silence that had not been addressed in such a strong manner up to that point.

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Describe the literary works of Langston Hughes.

I agree with the previous poster, but I would like to add that in addition to the poetry, short stories, and plays that Hughes is best known for, he's also the author of a great number of essays, including his early essay "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain." Like many African American artists before and after him, Hughes struggled with what it meant to be an American, a black man, and an artist.

Many of his works seem very optimistic to me, but they also often show that he was acutely aware of racial oppression (as well as other forms of oppression, including class) in the United States in the first half of the twentieth century. Hughes differed from many members of the next generation of black male writers (e.g. Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison) in that he did not often express open protest in his writings. (Some of Hughes' poetry in the 1930s are a clear exception, of course.) Instead, Hughes frequently used humor as both a weapon and a defense ("laughing to keep from crying").

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Describe the literary works of Langston Hughes.

Langston Hughes is perhaps the most influential and famous member of the Harlem Renaissance, a birth of art in the early twentieth century African American community. His works include "The Blues I'm Playing", "Dream Variations", "Harlem", "Mulatto", "Slave on the Block", and "Tambourines to Glory". Hughes' poetry and prose speaks of the twentieth century African American experience. He uses dialect frequently in his uniquely formed poetry. Music was also extremely important in Hughes' work. Jazz and bebop are both apparent in the rhythm and structure of his poems.

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