Langston Hughes: writer, “My People” & other works

Monochrome historical photo of Langston Hughes. He is depicted with a slight, enigmatic smile, wearing a dark suit, looking directly at the camera. The background is a wall densely covered with handwritten inscriptions.
Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes Biography

“The night is beautiful,
So the faces of my people.

The stars are beautiful,
So the eyes of my people

Beautiful, also, is the sun.
Beautiful, also, are the souls of my people.”

Langston Hughes wrote this poem at twenty-one. He called it “My People.”

Born in Missouri in 1902, Langston experienced a childhood of challenges and change. His father left the family shortly after Langston’s birth. Afterwhich, Langston moved to Kansas to live with his grandmother, as his mother moved often seeking work.

Langston learned many lessons in his grandmother’s home. She taught him about racial pride, inspired him to help his race. It was also there that Langston fell in love with reading. “I was unhappy for a long time, and very lonesome, living with my grandmother. Then it was that books began to happen to me, and I began to believe in nothing but books and the wonderful world in books,” he said.

Black and white portrait of Langston Hughes from the early 20th century. He is wearing a cap with a ribbon and a white, button-up collared shirt. Langston has a pensive expression, with his eyes looking slightly off to the side of the camera.
Langston Hughes, 1925.

But his entry into writing, which would define his life’s work, came by chance. He was elected class poet in grammar school. “I was a victim of a stereotype. There were only two of us Negro kids in the whole class and our English teacher was always stressing the importance of rhythm in poetry. Well, everyone knows, except us, that all Negroes have rhythm, so they elected me as class poet.” He read his first poem at graduation, receiving loud applause from the crowd.

Langston would write many more works after that poem. He spent his working life writing to inspire and uplift people. And while censored at times, banned from places at others, he never shied away from talking of life’s struggles, especially with poverty and racism.

Langston passed away in New York City in 1967.

Notes:

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Click here to read a snapshot biography of another writer, Edith Wharton.

Sources:

Wikipedia / “My People” First published as “Poem” in The Crisis (October 1923), p. 162, and The Weary Blues (1926). The title poem “My People” was collected in The Dream Keeper (1932) and the Selected Poems of Langston Hughes (1959). Rampersad & Roessel (2002), The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, pp. 36, 623. / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; acquired through the generosity of Elizabeth Ann Hylton, NPG.2011.101 / Van Vechten, Carl, photographer. Portrait of Langston Hughes. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2004663042/

To cite:

“Langston Hughes: writer, ‘My People’ & other works.” Historical Snapshots.