Analysis

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 298

Hughes was helped in his career, as was his friend and fellow writer Zora Neale Hurston, by one of the more bizarre patrons on the literary scene, an older white woman named Charlotte Osgood Mason. Born in 1854, Osgood had been much influenced by her contact with Native Americans tribes in the Southwest and had helped finance Natalie Curtis's 1907 The Indian Book, a groundbreaking study of Native Americans.

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Osgood came to believe white culture was corrupt and that the cure for its corruption lay in embracing the values of the "primitive" cultures of Africans and Native Americans. Not surprisingly, she gravitated toward the black cultural center of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s, where she met Hughes, an up and coming young writer.

Osgood took Hughes under her wing as a model "primitive" and entered into a formal agreement with him in 1927 that included a stipend of $150 a month as well as providing him with a secretary and clothes from New York's best tailors. Her support freed Hughes to write Not Without Laughter, which was published in 1930.

Initially, Osgood, whose acolytes called her "Godmother," made Hughes a favorite, calling him "A Golden star in the Firmament of Primitive Peoples." Hughes wrote that Osgood believed that blacks had "a deep well of the spirit within us and that we should keep it pure and deep."

While today we might cringe at Osgood's notions of blacks as a "younger" more mystical and "purer" race, Hughes initially appreciated the attention, love, and patronage she lavished on him. While their relationship soured and Osgood decided Hughes had betrayed the "purity" of "Primitivism" (it is hard to imagine any human who could live up to her idealized and exalted notions) her financial and spiritual support helped him advance his career and develop his talents.

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