illustrated portrait of American poet and author Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes

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In what ways was Langston Hughes considered a humble writer?

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Langston Hughes created an authorial persona which was personally self-effacing and humble, while expressing racial pride on behalf of African-Americans in general.

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Langston Hughes remains an enigmatic figure, one of the best-known poets of the twentieth century, who was nonetheless uncomfortable with fame and protective of his private life. While he may or may not have been a humble person, Hughes's authorial persona is a curious mixture of pride and humility, which requires some analysis. Hughes felt that black writers should support one another and present a united front to the white community. He wrote for a multiracial audience, but sometimes professed that he was writing for and about black people, and did not care what white people thought. In "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain," he wrote:

We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased, we are glad. If they are not, it doesn’t matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly too.

This is clearly a statement of racial pride, something inculcated in Hughes by the early influence of his grandmother. However, this pride is combined with personal humility.

When speaking for himself rather than his race, Hughes is self-effacing and modest in both his poetry and his prose. He was famously reluctant to criticize other black writers, or even to respond to attacks from detractors such as James Baldwin or Ralph Ellison, the latter of whom he initially mentored. In this way, his persona as a writer is personally humble, while expressing collective pride on behalf of all black people.

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