Appreciating Langston Hughes

February 1 was the anniversary of the birth of the poet, playwright, and short story writer Langston Hughes. He’s always been my favorite. I recall one of his poems that appeared in one of my elementary-school language arts textbooks. I can’t recall whether it was “April Rain Song” or “Autumn Thought.” In any case, that poem was my introduction. Today, I have the Selected Poems of Langston Hughes on my Nook. There are plenty of longer anthologies as well. I’m pleased that all his works, including the two volumes of his autobiography, are still easy to find.

Years later, I got a complete picture of his work–and of Hughes as a person. He was a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance. For a brief time, he lived in Washington, D.C.

Google commemorated his birthday with the following musical Google Doodle:

The following is a list of some favorite Hughes poems. Which are yours?

“Dreams”

“Theme for English B”

I relate to the feeling of being “different” in this poem. The other reason I like the poem is that I saw and heard it recited several years ago by Will Farley, then a student at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia. He was a guest on a Memorial Day weekend performance of “A Prairie Home Companion,” which my aunt and I saw and enjoyed live. Here is a poetry recap show of “Prairie” where you can listen to the poem.

The Trumpet Player

I never read this one without recalling Louis Armstrong.

In Time of Silver Rain

I didn’t know until I looked it up recently that Hughes dedicated this work to Lorraine Hansberry, the playwright who wrote A Raisin in the Sun–a favorite play of mine. He had learned she had cancer.

Here it is set to music:

Mother to Son

I always liked this one because it shows parental teaching and encouragement. The mom is trying to inspire determination, strength. and resilience in her son, because life is hard sometimes. It’s so important to keep going.

This YouTube video shows Langston Hughes himself reading this poem at the end. This is the first time I have ever heard his voice.

Finally, here is “Bad Morning”–another one I can relate to. Believe me, if all that happens to you on a bad morning is mismatched shoes, you’re doing pretty well. 🙂

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Filed under African American Literature, Classics, Poetry

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