I'm Mary Tillotson.
And I'm Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program PEOPLEIN AMERICA. Today we finish telling about the life of LangstonHughes, known as the poet voice of African Americans. He was one ofthe most important writers of the Harlem Renaissance.
Langston Hughes was born in nineteen-oh-two. His parentsseparated when he was little. Langston grew up with his grandmotherwho told him stories about their family's fight against racialinjustice. He developed a love of reading books as a way to dealwith loneliness and a feeling of rejection from his parents. Hislove for reading grew into a desire to write.
As a young man, Langston traveledto Europe and Africa working on ships. He wrote poems and shortstories during his travels. A few of the writings he sent home werepublished, which helped establish him as a professional writer.
By nineteen-twenty-five, Langston Hughes had returned to theUnited States and was living in Harlem in New York City. This wasduring the Harlem Renaissance, a period of great artistic creativityamong blacks who lived there.
Hughes discovered a new way of writing poetry, using the rhythmsof jazz and blues to support his words. His first collection ofpoetry, called the "Weary Blues," was published innineteen-twenty-six. Hughes wrote poetry about the commonexperiences of black people. People said they could see themselvesin the words of his poetry.
Hughes had worked many different jobs, but wished to make aliving as a writer. Wealthy white supporters of the HarlemRenaissance helped Hughes until he could support himself. CriticCarl Van Vechten had helped to get the "The Weary Blues" published.Van Vechten was one of the first to recognize the new styles of thewriters of the Harlem Renaissance and their importance in AfricanAmerican literature. Another supporter of the arts, Amy Spingarn,gave Hughes money to complete his education at Lincoln University inPennsylvania.
Missus Charlotte Mason begansupporting Hughes in Nineteen Twenty-Seven. In nineteen-thirty, hepublished a novel, "Not Without Laughter," that made him veryfamous. His relationship with Missus Mason ended about the time thebook appeared. After that, Hughes sank into a period of intensepersonal unhappiness.
In the early nineteen-thirties, Langston Hughes traveled to Cubaand Haiti. He later traveled across the southern United States,doing poetry readings and trying to sell his books. Hughes waslikeable and gained many readers during his visit to the South.
He also began to write many different short stories that werepublished in magazines. In these, he was able to discuss ideasrelated to black pride, racism and other issues of black life.
In nineteen-thirty-two, Hughes traveled to the Soviet Union. Hebecame an active supporter of communism. He believed communism wasfairer to minorities. During this time, his writing also became moremilitant. Several of his poems expressed support for social andpolitical protests.
Later, his writings began to examine the unfairness of life inAmerica. He wrote about people whose lives were affected by racismand sexual conflicts, violence in the southern United States, Harlemstreet life, poverty, racism, hunger and hopelessness.
Hughes wrote one of his most important works innineteen-twenty-six, "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain." Itspoke of black writers and poets who want to be considered as poets,not black poets. Hughes thought this meant they wanted to write likewhite poets. He argued there was a need for race pride and artisticindependence:
CUT ONE: "THE NEGRO ARTIST AND THE RACIAL MOUNTAIN"
"We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express ourindividual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If whitepeople are pleased we are glad. If they aren't, it doesn't matter.We know we are beautiful. And ugly too鈥f colored people are pleasedwe are glad. If they are not, their displeasure doesn't mattereither. We build our temples for tomorrow, as strong as we know how.And we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves."
As his success as a writer grew, Langston Hughes began to exploreother ways to spread his message. He wrote children's stories andseveral plays. By nineteen-forty, he had opened black theater groupsin Harlem, Chicago and Los Angeles.
While writing for a black newspaper, Hughes created someonecalled "Jesse B. Semple." The name "Jesse B. Semple" representedHughes's writing style: Just Be Simple. Semple was a common man ofthe people who "tells it like it is." His experiences help otherpeople understand the world in a clearer light. Hughes spoke throughhis character:
CUT TWO: HUGHES READING FROM "SIMPLE"
Here is more of "Jesse B. Semple," read by Langston Hughes.
CUT THREE: HUGHES READING FROM "SIMPLE"
Langston Hughes was known to be very supportive of young writersand poets. Some said his willingness to help young writers was aresult of his unhappy childhood. Wherever he went, from theCaribbean to Africa to Russia, he connected with writers and gavethem support. He also translated some of their writings into Englishand included them in collections he produced.
Not everyone praised Hughes' work. Some critics said his writingswere too simple and lacked depth. Some blacks condemned his informalwriting style and honest descriptions of black life. They alsocriticized his use of blues and jazz in his poetry and hisexpressions of sympathy for working people.
However, his supporters praised his straightforward writingstyle. They said he demonstrated that writing does not have to becomplex to be great.
In nineteen-fifty-one, Hughes wrote one of his most successfulcollections of jazz poetry called, "Montage of a Dream Deferred."The poems are expressions of everyday life in Harlem. They take thereader through one complete day and night in Harlem.
In some of the poems, Hughes uses a new kind of jazz played inHarlem at the time, called "Be-Bop." The poems deal with the problemof being black in America. In "Harlem," the most famous poem in thecollection, he asks:
CUT FOUR: "MONTAGE OF A DREAM DEFERRED"
There were difficult times for Langston Hughes. Conservatives inthe United States were suspicious of his ties to extremistmovements, his activism, and his support of the Soviet Union for itstreatment of minorities.
In nineteen-fifty-three, he was forced to appear before SenatorJoseph McCarthy's committee on subversive activities to explain hisinterest in communism. Under pressure during the nineteen-fifties,Hughes softened the voice of his poems and rejected his militantpast. He was criticized later by some black activists for not beingmilitant enough.
Hughes continued to write and publish throughout thenineteen-fifties and sixties. And he won several important awardsduring that time. He also taught at Atlanta University and theUniversity of Chicago.
Hughes died of cancer in nineteen-sixty-seven in Harlem, NewYork. His home on One-Hundred-Twenty-Seventh Street has been made anational landmark.
Experts say Langston Hughes helped to change the sound ofAmerican literature. They say he wrote poems the world will alwaysknow.
This Special English program was written and produced by CynthiaKirk. Our studio engineer was Mick Shaw. I'm Mary Tillotson.
And I'm Steve Ember. Join us again next week for another PEOPLEIN AMERICA program on the Voice of America.