What Influenced Langston Hughes To Write Poetry

Langston Hughes was an iconic American poet and playwright during the Harlem Renaissance. Born in 1902 in Joplin, Missouri, Hughes was a central figure in the cultural movement of Black Americans in the 1920s and 1930s. The Harlem Renaissance was a moment for Black people to artistically showcase their talents and imaginings, allowing for language to become a powerful platform for a voice that was previously forgotten. Therefore, it is important to investigate what motivated Hughes to write poetry.

During the 1950s, Hughes wrote a series of poems that became known as the “Harlem Renaissance” style. He favored imagery and metaphors to reflect his thoughts and feelings. Those in the literary world, such as Ernest Hemingway, described him as being a master lyricist and a poetic depth unmatched in American literature. yet, to truly ask what influenced Langston Hughes to write poetry, it is important to look at the greater historical context.

There was a tremendous amount of suffering and struggle in the African-American community in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which is what brought attention to the movement of the Harlem Renaissance. Historian David Levering Lewis explains how this was a time when “the promise of America could be shown to matter for African Americans.” During this time, people’s voices began to become heard, as tangible hope was created for a better future. This provided an immense sense of motivation for Hughes to express himself through writing.

At the same time, however, the specter of racism was still strong in American life. Hughes witnessed the inequities between races, and eventually the frustration and anger he had towards the injustice he faced became central topics in his poetry. Revolutionary in his own right, his words often spoke for those without a voice in society. In this way, Hughes was writing poetry to support and encourage the advancement of African-Americans, as he wanted to generate awareness of the struggle they faced.

Moreover, Hughes was also inspired by music as a great source of creativity, as he stated in one of his memorable speeches: “Music is an expression, music is a language, music is a feeling.” Through his involvement with jazz and blues, Hughes was able to draw upon a richness of experience and emotions to evoke powerful feelings in his writings. Perhaps this also comes from his understanding of rhythm and repetition, as explained by another literary critic Christine Stroud, who noted: “The slow and steady rhythm of blues, along with repetition of words and phrases, mimics the effects of the African storytelling techniques that Hughes had learned as a child.”

Overall, Langston Hughes was able to successfully capture the voice of the African-American community during the Harlem Renaissance and throughout the rest of the 20th century. The circumstances of his upbringing and the struggles of the African-American community served as catalysts for Hughes to write poetry and express his thoughts on the social injustices he faced. His works were poignant, imaginative, and groundbreaking, and continue to inspire people all over the world.

The Historical Context

The Harlem Renaissance was a time of great artistic and cultural awakening, as previously unheard voices in the African-American community were finally able to be heard and appreciated. Key themes of the movement included equality, understanding, and justice, as they provided a platform for writers, artists, and musicians to be celebrated. This was especially powerful for Langston Hughes, who was faced with racial inequities and difficulties growing up in America. Therefore, this time period provided a huge amount of inspiration and motivation for him to write poetry.

For many African-Americans during this time, the belief that these issues could be resolved through the power of literature, art, and music served as an impetus for expression. Hughes himself wrote in his poem “Let America Be America Again” that “the dreams that we had dreamed/ Turned bitter in our hands,” as well as in “Dreams,” noting, “Hold fast to dreams/ For if dreams die/ Life is a broken-winged bird/ That cannot fly.” These two themes of hope and struggle created the perfect platform for Hughes to write poetry, as he spoke of his own experiences, as well as in a broader sense to his peers.

The Influence of Music

Writing poetry was not only a way to express emotions, but also a way to economically support himself. At the same time, music was an important source of inspiration for Hughes and his writing. Throughout his life, Hughes was involved in various musical forms, such as jazz and blues, and combined the styles of these musical genres with his own writing. This allowed him to capture a unique blend of tones and rhythms, as he incorporated phrases and lyrics from songs in his poetry pieces. He often spoke of music as a great source of creativity and this can be evidenced in one of Hughes memorable speeches, “Music is an expression, music is a language, music is a feeling.”

On Social Justice and Empowerment

Not only did music influence Langston Hughes’ writing, but his work was heavily focused on the topics of social justice and empowerment. Through his poetry, Hughes wanted to create a sense of unity and recognition within the African-American community. He used his writings to draw attention to the oppression, racism, and inequality that was prevalent in society during his time. In pieces such as “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” “Let America Be America Again,” and “I, Too, Sing America,” Hughes wrote of the resilience and courage of his people, despite the struggles they faced. He believed that by celebrating the strength of the African-American community, it could create awareness and bring about a shift in societal attitudes.

The Message of Motivation and Hope

Above all else, Langston Hughes wanted to provide a sense of hope, inspiration, and motivation to those going through similar struggles. His work often spoke to the idea that although life may be difficult at times, it was possible to persevere and make something positive out of the situation. In poems such as “A Dream Deferred” and “Dreams” Hughes wrote of the power of possibility, despite the realities of the world. This theme of hope and possibility resonated with many African-Americans, as they strived to push past adversity and build a more equitable world.

The Lasting Legacy

Since his death in 1967, Langston Hughes has become an icon in American literature, as his works continue to be studied and performed all over the world. His presence and impact has been honored in various awards, such as the prestigious Academy of American Poets Prize, as well as a US postage stamp. As a part of the Harlem Renaissance, his writing stands as an enduring testament to the power of expression. His use of imagery, coupled with his powerful message of hope, has become a source of inspiration for people everywhere, making him one of the most iconic African-American writers of all time.

Dannah Hannah is an established poet and author who loves to write about the beauty and power of poetry. She has published several collections of her own works, as well as articles and reviews on poets she admires. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English, with a specialization in poetics, from the University of Toronto. Hannah was also a panelist for the 2017 Futurepoem book Poetry + Social Justice, which aimed to bring attention to activism through poetry. She lives in Toronto, Canada, where she continues to write and explore the depths of poetry and its influence on our lives.

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