illustrated portrait of American poet and author Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes

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Using two selected works, describe what it means to be American.

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William Carlos Williams's conception of America is, in part, determined by his status as a child of immigrants from England and Puerto Rico. His poems involve collages of imagery from different places, forming modernist renditions of epic journeys that are deeply contextualized by his difficulty identifying as an American. His poems look with constructivist and historicist lenses on America and are rife with both direct and implicit references to events which, regardless of their moral righteousness, determined the America that he saw in his time.

Langston Hughes's conception of America is differently informed by his experience as an oppressed Black man, and as a closeted gay man, in the era leading up to the Black Power and other civil rights movements. He was highly skeptical of mainstream thought about American identity, and this stemmed from his experiences as a member of an out-group in New York City and in the poetry community at large. Hughes's mother instilled in him a love for Black oral tradition, and he came to affiliate himself more with Black America than with the models of America that his white contemporaries held.

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