Who Was Langston Hughes Influenced By

Who Was Langston Hughes Influenced By?

Langston Hughes was an influential American poet, novelist, playwright, and social activist during the 1920s and 1930s. He was at the forefront of the modernist movement in literature, exploring themes such as racial identity, racial oppression, and racial injustice in his work. In doing so, Hughes was heavily influenced by the work of other African American writers, including W.E.B. Du Bois, Zora Neale Hurston, and James Weldon Johnson.

Du Bois was one of Hughes’ primary influences. Du Bois inspired Hughes with his bold calls for racial equality, particularly during the Harlem Renaissance. Du Bois’ writings also inspired Hughes to explore literature from a variety of perspectives, including “from beneath the veil” as Hughes famously wrote. Du Bois’ focus on social issues, such as poverty and criminal justice, also influenced Hughes’ poetic style.

Hurston was another key influence on Hughes. Hurston was a prolific writer of fiction, non-fiction, plays, and poetry. She was particularly renowned for her vivid depictions of African American characters. Her novels, such as “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” influenced Hughes in its exploration of the unique African American experience and its frank portrayal of the challenges faced by black Americans. Hughes was also influenced by Hurston’s use of language and creative use of metaphor.

Johnson was another key figure in the Harlem Renaissance and a primary influence on Hughes. Johnson’s life and writings inspired Hughes, particularly his commitment to social justice and his commitment to using language as a tool for collective progress. In particular, Johnson’s exploration of racial identity, particularly African American identity, resonated with Hughes and led him to explore the themes of race and race relations in his own work.

In addition to Du Bois, Hurston, and Johnson, Hughes was also influenced by a number of other potential contemporaries, including Walter White, Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, and Richard Wright. These writers inspired Hughes to explore identity, race, and race relations in literature in creative and innovative ways. Hughes wrote on a variety of subject matters, but ultimately, his work was shaped by the ideas expressed by his contemporaries.

Exploration of Race and Identity

Hughes was most well-known for his exploration of race and racial identity in his writing. His work was heavily influenced by Du Bois’ exploration of the unique constraints and opportunities for African Americans in American society, as well as Johnson’s commitment to using literature as a tool for social progress. Hughes often wrote using metaphor and imagery to explore the complexities and nuances of racial identity. His works such as “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” explored the connections between African Americans’ history and their identity in the modern world while exploring the oppression and injustice they faced.

Hughes also used his work to explore the connections between African American life and white American life, as well as the challenges of living in a white-dominated society. His works such as “Let America Be America Again” explored the divide between the American dream and the reality of life for African Americans in America, as well as the challenges of living as a minority in a primarily white society. His use of imagery and metaphor enabled him to explore complex topics in an accessible and engaging manner.

Examination of Poverty and Injustice

In addition to his exploration of racial identity, Hughes also examined the injustices and struggles faced by poverty-stricken African Americans. His short-story collection Simple Speaks His Mind contains a powerful examination of the poverty and injustice faced by African Americans in the 1930s. Through Simple, Hughes examines the challenges of growing up in poverty and the difficulties of trying to improve one’s circumstances in spite of racism and discrimination. By writing in a realistic, straightforward manner, Hughes was able to effectively express the suffering and indignation of African Americans living in poverty.

In addition, Hughes also explored criminal justice and its impact on African Americans in his writing. His poem “Justice” explores the duplicity of justice in America, particularly when it comes to African Americans. Hughes expresses the injustice that African Americans face in the criminal justice system and encourages the reader to question the status quo. Through his work, Hughes highlighted the issues of racial injustice and inequality in the criminal justice system in poignant and powerful ways.

Impact of the Great Migration

In his writing, Hughes also explored the impact of the large-scale migration of African Americans from the South to the North and West in the early twentieth century, often referred to as the Great Migration. In particular, in his poem “Harlem,” Hughes examines the challenges and opportunities presented by the Great Migration and its impact on African American identity. By exploring the complexities of the African American experience, Hughes was able to effectively express the hope and opportunities presented by the Great Migration, as well as the struggles and discrimination that African Americans faced in their new homes.

In addition to exploring the Great Migration, Hughes was also heavily influenced by the experiences of African American migrants in terms of their religious beliefs. In his works, Hughes explored the complex relationship between African American churches and the challenges they faced in trying to maintain their beliefs in the face of discrimination and poverty. His poem “God’s Trombones” examines religious African American beliefs and the challenges they faced in their new homes. Through his work, Hughes was able to explore the unique challenges of religious beliefs and the importance of maintaining African Americans’ faith in a hostile environment.

Connection to Jazz and Blues

Hughes was also heavily influenced by jazz and blues music, which often served as a source of inspiration and a vehicle for protest. In particular, Hughes drew inspiration from jazz and blues when exploring issues of racial identity and injustice in his writing. His works such as “Negro Speaks of Rivers” and “The Weary Blues” draw inspiration from traditional African American musical styles and explore the unique experiences of African Americans in America. Additionally, Hughes used jazz and blues techniques in his poetry and verse, often blending traditional musical techniques with innovative arrangements and structures.

In addition to drawing inspiration from jazz and blues in his writing, Hughes was also heavily influenced by the music’s political implications. Jazz and blues often served as a form of expression for African American communities, as well as a form of protest against discrimination, oppression, and injustice. As a result, Hughes was often inspired by the political implications of the music and drew upon them in his own writing. Through his works, he was able to effectively explore the themes of racial injustice and inequality and provide a powerful platform for protest and social change.


Ultimately, Hughes’ work was shaped by a variety of influences, including Du Bois, Hurston, Johnson, jazz and blues music, and his own experiences. His exploration of race and racism in America, as well as his examination of poverty and injustice, have made him a powerful and enduring voice in American literature. Hughes’ work has inspired countless African American writers and poets to explore issues of racial identity, racial injustice, and inequality in their own work. His work has also shaped popular culture, with his works often adapted for film and television. Hughes remains an important and influential figure in American literature, and his work will continue to shape the landscape for years to come.

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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