“To create a market for your
writing you have to be consistent, professional, a continuing writer—not just a
one-article or one-story or one-book man.”
James Mercer Langston Hughes
wrote successfully in a variety of genres, most notably in poetry. His column
in the Chicago Defender not only brought him much attention,
his novels and plays also reached audiences throughout the country, reflecting
a true unvarnished look at the plight of African-American people in the United
States in the early part of the 20th century.
His poetry crossed barriers and
touched readers at a time when the value of the lives of black Americans was in
question. A major force in the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes’ words reached deep
into the souls of many people influencing them as he had once been influenced
by Carl Sandburg.
His seminal work “A Dream
Deferred” (1951) includes the line “Does it dry up/like a raisin in the sun?” This line later appeared as the title of one of the
most important plays of its time and one of the longest running plays ever,
Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun.
1941, Hughes founded a theater group in Chicago called The Skyloft Players.
Using a modest budget, The Skyloft Players mounted plays and offered a variety
of classes encouraging and nurturing black theater artists, specifically
playwrights. The focus on the work was creating theater from “the black
perspective,” according to the group's first director,
Soon after the inauguration of
the theater group, Hughes went to work for the Chicago Defender. It was through the Defender Hughes introduced readers to his character Jesse B. Semple
– known to the readers as Simple. Hughes combined powerful rhetoric with
down-home humor to attack or reflect the conditions of African-Americans at the
time. He was eloquent and clear – and no injustice escaped his literary wrath.
To some, this column was Hughes’ most powerful and relevant work. He became the
voice of a people who were beginning to secure their place in society. Hughes wrote his column for the Defender for
Gwendolyn Brooks had already
been submitting her work to “Light and Shadows,” the poetry element of the Chicago Defender, when she met Hughes at
the age of 16. Hughes was an influence on her illustrious career
In 1949, Hughes spent three months at the integrated
Laboratory School of the University of Chicago as a Visiting Lecturer on
Poetry. Chicago’s Langston Hughes Elementary School, at 240 W. 104th
Street, is named in his honor. The U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp with his
likeness in 2002.
As a young man, Hughes was often
referred to as the “low-rate poet of Harlem.” As he grew older he became known
as "Poet Laureate of the Negro Race," a title he encouraged.