illustrated portrait of American poet and author Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes

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What is Langston Hughes' most famous work?

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Langston Hughes was born in 1902 and spent his youth in the Midwest, then spent a couple of years in Mexico with his father. After moving to New York in 1921 to attend Columbia University, he became acquainted with numerous African Americans who had moved there. During his lifetime, he traveled widely—including to the Soviet Union—and lived in Washington, DC for a while. Hughes remains well known as a prominent member of a group of writers, artists, and intellectuals based in Harlem. This massive outpouring of African-American creativity in the 1920s is called the Harlem Renaissance. Hughes gained a substantial literary reputation as one of the leading lights of this renaissance.

Hughes’ lasting fame was cemented, however, several decades later. His poem called “Harlem” or “Dream Deferred” is his most famous work. The poet writes of the impact of putting off one’s dreams, using a series of questions about that impact. The first line, “What happens to a dream deferred?” is referenced in the 1951 collection in which it is featured, Montage of a Dream Deferred.

Despite the poem’s power in its own right, its lasting fame is also due to Lorraine Hansberry’ use of its second line, “Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?” Her 1957 play, A Raisin in the Sun, chronicles the lives of an African American striving to achieve their dreams in Chicago.

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