James Mercer Langston Hughes was an American poet, novelist, playwright, columnist, and social activist active throughout the early to middle 20th century, probably best known as one of the leaders of the Harlem Renaissance. Through his work, Hughes sought to honestly portray the joys and hardships of working-class black lives, avoiding both sentimental idealization and negative stereotypes – in his own words, Langston declared his poetry was about “workers, roustabouts, and singers, and job hunters on Lenox Avenue in New York, or Seventh Street in Washington or South State in Chicago – people up today and down tomorrow, working this week and fired the next, beaten and baffled, but determined not to be wholly beaten, buying furniture on the installment plan, filling the house with roomers to help pay the rent, hoping to get a new suit for Easter – and pawning that suit before the Fourth of July.” What is so monumental about Hughes is that he brought a varied and diverse background to his writing: before the age of 12 he had lived in six different American cities. When his first book was published, he had already been a truck farmer, cook, waiter, college graduate, sailor, and a doorman at a nightclub in Paris, and to add to it, traveled to Mexico, West Africa, the Azores, the Canary Islands, Holland, France, and Italy. In the wake of his first book’s publication, Hughes went on to write countless more works of poetry, prose, and plays, as well as a column in the Chicago Defender, a column which ran for over two decades. Over the course of his career, Langston witnessed a colossal amount of upheaval, from WWI, to the Roaring 20s, the Great Depression, WWII, and of course the Civil Rights Movement, but his outspoken fight never wavered in his pursuit of shining a light on the reality of life for black Americans. So, without further ado, let’s dive into this weeks episode of Legacy, covering the incredible journey of none other than Langston Hughes.
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