By Jonathan Beecher "Most of my life from childhood on has been spent moving, traveling, changing places, knowing people in one school, in one town or in one group, or on one ship a little while, but soon never seeing most of them again," Langston Hughes writes in I Wonder as I Wander. When I was twenty-eight my personal crash came. Then I guess I woke up. So, when I was almost thirty, I began to make my living from writing. He graduated in , and had worked in a hat store, on a truck farm, in a flower shop, and as a doorman, second cook, waiter, beach-comber, bum, and seaman, on the way. A Traveling Man He knew pretty well by then that he wanted to be a writer, but it was not so easy for a Negro to get a living out of writing.
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Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University Langston Hughes was a central figure in the Harlem Renaissance , the flowering of black intellectual, literary, and artistic life that took place in the s in a number of American cities, particularly Harlem. A major poet, Hughes also wrote novels, short stories, essays, and plays.
If white people are pleased we are glad. We know we are beautiful. And ugly too. And still are. In anything that white people were likely to read, they wanted to put their best foot forward, their politely polished and cultural foot—and only that foot. Some, like James Baldwin, were downright malicious about his poetic achievement. He had the wit and intelligence to explore the black human condition in a variety of depths, but his tastes and selectivity were not always accurate, and pressures to survive as a black writer in a white society and it was a miracle that he did for so long extracted an enormous creative toll.
Nevertheless, Hughes, more than any other black poet or writer, recorded faithfully the nuances of black life and its frustrations. Perhaps in this he was inversely influenced by his father—who, frustrated by being the object of scorn in his native land, rejected his own people.
The elder Hughes came to feel a deep dislike and revulsion for other African-Americans. Although Hughes had trouble with both black and white critics, he was the first black American to earn his living solely from his writing and public lectures.
Part of the reason he was able to do this was the phenomenal acceptance and love he received from average black people. Before he was 12 years old he had lived in six different American cities. When his first book was published, he had already been a truck farmer, cook, waiter, college graduate, sailor, and doorman at a nightclub in Paris, and had visited Mexico, West Africa, the Azores, the Canary Islands, Holland, France, and Italy.
There [was] no noticeable sham in it, no pretension, no self-deceit; but a great, great deal of delight and smiling irresistible wit. Hughes reached many people through his popular fictional character, Jesse B. Semple shortened to Simple. Simple is a poor man who lives in Harlem, a kind of comic no-good, a stereotype Hughes turned to advantage. He tells his stories to Boyd, the foil in the stories who is a writer much like Hughes, in return for a drink.
His tales of his troubles with work, women, money, and life in general often reveal, through their very simplicity, the problems of being a poor black man in a racist society.
Donald C. The situations he meets and discusses are so true to life everyone may enter the fun. Simple lived in a world they knew, suffered their pangs, experienced their joys, reasoned in their way, talked their talk, dreamed their dreams, laughed their laughs, voiced their fears—and all the while underneath, he affirmed the wisdom which anchored at the base of their lives.
Violations of that humanity offended his unshakable conviction that mankind is possessed of the divinity of God. And if he has none, why not? The age demands intellectual commitment from its spokesmen. A poetry whose chief claim on our attention is moral, rather than aesthetic, must take sides politically. David Littlejohn wrote that Hughes is "the one sure Negro classic, more certain of permanence than even Baldwin or Ellison or Wright. Here, the editors have combined it with the artwork of elementary school children at the Harlem School of the Arts.
Donald B. Hughes differed from most of his predecessors among black poets, and until recently from those who followed him as well, in that he addressed his poetry to the people, specifically to black people. During the twenties when most American poets were turning inward, writing obscure and esoteric poetry to an ever decreasing audience of readers, Hughes was turning outward, using language and themes, attitudes and ideas familiar to anyone who had the ability simply to read.
Hughes died on May 22, , due to complications from prostate cancer.
I Wonder as I Wander
Shelves: travel Near the end of this account of his world travels from through , Langston Hughes writes: I remembered once during my childhood in Kansas my grandmother had given me an apple that had been bruised and so had a brown spot on it. I didnt want to eat the apple. My grandmother said, Whats the matter with you, boy? You cant expect every apple to be a perfect apple. Just because its got a speck on it, you want to throw it away.
I Wonder as I Wander: An Autobiographical Journey