Hughes, (James) Langston

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HUGHES, (James) Langston

Nationality: American. Born: Joplin, Missouri, 1 February 1902. Education: Central High School, Cleveland, 1916-20; Columbia University, New York, 1921-22; Lincoln University, Pennsylvania (Witter Bynner award, 1926), 1926-29, B.A. 1929. Career: During World War II, member of the Music and Writers war boards. English teacher in Mexico, 1920-21; seaman, 1923-24; busboy, Wardman Park Hotel, Washington, D.C., 1925; Madrid correspondent, Baltimore Afro-American, 1937; columnist ("Simple"), Chicago Defender, 1943-67; columnist, New York Post, 1962-67. Lived in Harlem, New York, after 1947. Founder, Harlem Suitcase Theatre, New York, 1938, New Negro Theatre, Los Angeles, 1939, and Skyloft Players, Chicago, 1941. Visiting professor of creative writing, Atlanta University, 1947; poet-in-residence, University of Chicago Laboratory School, 1949. Awards: Harmon gold medal, 1931; Rosenwald fellowship, 1931, 1940; Guggenheim fellowship, 1935; American Academy grant, 1946; Anisfield-Wolf award, 1953; NAACP Spingarn medal, 1960. D.Litt: Lincoln University, 1943; Howard University, Washington, D.C., 1963; Western Reserve University, Cleveland, 1964. Member: American Academy, 1961; American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Died: 22 May 1967.



Short Stories of Langston Hughes. 1996.

The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. 1996.

Short Stories

The Ways of White Folks. 1934.

Simple Speaks His Mind. 1950.

Laughing to Keep from Crying. 1952.

Simple Takes a Wife. 1953.

Simple Stakes a Claim. 1957.

The Best of Simple, illustrated by Bernard Nast. 1961.

Something in Common and Other Stories. 1963.

Simple's Uncle Sam. 1965.

The Return of Simple. 1994.


Not Without Laughter. 1930.

Tambourines to Glory. 1958.


The Weary Blues. 1926.

Fine Clothes to the Jew. 1927.

Dear Lovely Death. 1931.

The Negro Mother and Other Dramatic Recitations. 1931.

The Dream-Keeper and Other Poems. 1932.

Scottsboro Limited: Four Poems and a Play in Verse. 1932.

A New Song. 1938.

Shakespeare in Harlem. 1942.

Jim Crow's Last Stand. 1943.

Lament for Dark Peoples and Other Poems, edited by H. Driessen. 1944.

Fields of Wonder. 1947.

One-Way Ticket. 1949.

Montage of a Dream Deferred. 1951.

Selected Poems. 1959.

Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz. 1961.

The Panther and the Lash: Poems of Our Times. 1967.

Don't You Turn Back (for children), edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins. 1969.

The Block: Poems (for children). 1995.


The Gold Piece, in Brownies' Book, July 1921.

Mulatto (produced 1935; original version produced 1939). In Five Plays, 1963.

Little Ham (produced 1935). In Five Plays, 1963.

Troubled Island (produced 1935; revised version, music by William Grant Still, produced 1949). 1949.

When the Jack Hollers, with Arna Bontemps (produced 1936).

Joy to My Soul (produced 1937).

Soul Gone Home (produced 1937?). In Five Plays, 1963.

Don't You Want to Be Free?, music by Carroll Tate (produced1937). In One Act Play Magazine, October 1938.

Front Porch (produced 1938).

The Organizer, music by James P. Johnson (produced 1939).

The Sun Do Move (produced 1942).

Freedom's Plow (broadcast 1943). 1943.

Pvt. Jim Crow (radio script), in Negro Story, May-June 1945.

Booker T. Washington at Atlanta (broadcast 1945). In Radio Drama in Action, edited by Eric Barnouw, 1945.

Street Scene (lyrics only), book by Elmer Rice, music by KurtWeill (produced 1947). 1948.

The Barrier, music by Jan Meyerowitz (produced 1950).

Just Around the Corner (lyrics only), book by Abby Mann and Bernard Drew, music by Joe Sherman (produced 1951).

Simply Heavenly, music by David Martin (produced 1957). 1959.

Esther, music by Jan Meyerowitz (produced 1957).

Shakespeare in Harlem, with James Weldon Johnson (produced1959).

Port Town, music by Jan Meyerowitz (produced 1960).

The Ballad of the Brown King, music by Margaret Bonds (produced 1960).

Black Nativity (produced 1961).

Gospel Glow (produced 1962).

Let Us Remember Him, music by David Amram (produced 1963).

Tambourines to Glory, music by Jobe Huntley, from the novel by Hughes (produced 1963). In Five Plays, 1963.

Five Plays (includes Mulatto, Soul Gone Home, Little Ham, Simply Heavenly, Tambourines to Glory), edited by Webster Smalley. 1963.

Jerico-Jim Crow (produced 1963).

The Prodigal Son (produced 1965).


Way Down South, with Clarence Muse, 1939.

Radio Scripts:

Jubilee, with Arna Bontemps, 1941; Brothers, 1942;Freedom's Plow, 1943; John Henry Hammers It Out, with Peter Lyons, 1943; In the Service of My Country, 1944; The Man Who Went to War, 1944 (UK); Booker T. Washington at Atlanta, 1945; Swing Time at the Savoy, with Noble Sissle, 1949.

Television Scripts:

The Big Sea, 1965; It's a Mighty World, 1965;Strollin' Twenties, 1966.

Other (for children)

Popo and Fifina: Children of Haiti, with Arna Bontemps. 1932.

The First Book of Negroes. 1952.

The First Book of Rhythms. 1954.

Famous American Negroes. 1954.

Famous Negro Music-Makers. 1955.

The First Book of Jazz. 1955; revised edition, 1962.

The First Book of the West Indies. 1956; as The First Book of the Caribbean, 1965.

Famous Negro Heroes of America. 1958.

The First Book of Africa. 1960; revised edition, 1964.

The Sweet and Sour Animal Book. 1994.


The Big Sea: An Autobiography. 1940.

The Sweet Flypaper of Life (on Harlem), with Roy De Carava. 1955.

A Pictorial History of the Negro in America, with Milton Meltzer.1956; revised edition, 1963, 1968.

I Wonder as I Wander: An Autobiographical Journey. 1956.

The Hughes Reader. 1958.

Fight for Freedom: The Story of the NAACP. 1962.

Black Magic: A Pictorial History of the Negro in American Entertainment, with Milton Meltzer. 1967.

Black Misery. 1969.

Good Morning, Revolution: Uncollected Social Protest Writings, edited by Faith Berry. 1973.

Hughes in the Hispanic World and Haiti, edited by Edward J. Mullen. 1977.

Arna Bontemps-Hughes: Letters 1925-1967, edited by Charles H. Nichols. 1980.

Langston Hughes and the Chicago Defender: Essays on Race, Politics, and Culture, 1942-1962. 1995.

Editor, Four Lincoln University Poets. 1930.

Editor, with Arna Bontemps, The Poetry of the Negro 1746-1949: An Anthology. 1949; revised edition, as The Poetry of the Negro 1746-1970, 1970.

Editor, with Waring Guney and Bruce M. Wright, Lincoln University Poets. 1954.

Editor, with Arna Bontemps, The Book of Negro Folklore. 1958.

Editor, An Africa Treasury: Articles, Essays, Stories, Poems by Black Africans. 1960.

Editor, Poems from Black Africa. 1963.

Editor, New Negro Poets: USA. 1964.

Editor, The Book of Negro Humor. 1966.

Editor, La Poésie Negro-Américaine (bilingual edition). 1966.

Editor, Anthologie Africaine et Malgache. 1966.

Editor, The Best Short Stories by Negro Writers: An Anthology from 1899 to the Present. 1967.

Translator, with Mercer Cook, Masters of the Dew, by JacquesRoumain. 1947.

Translator, with Ben Frederic Carruthers, Cuba Libre, by NicolásGuillén. 1948.

Translator, Gypsy Ballads, by Federico García Lorca. 1951.

Translator, Selected Poems of Gabriela Mistral. 1957.



A Bio-Bibliography of Hughes 1902-1967 by Donald C. Dickinson, 1967, revised edition, 1972; Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks: A Reference Guide by R. Baxter Miller, 1978; Hughes: A Bio-bibliography by Thomas A. Mikolyzk, 1990.

Critical Studies:

Hughes by James A. Emanuel, 1967; Hughes: A Biography by Milton Meltzer, 1968; Hughes, Black Genius: A Critical Evaluation edited by Therman B. O'Daniel, 1971 (includes bibliography); Hughes, American Poet by Alice Walker, 1974; Hughes: An Introduction to the Poetry by Onwuchekwa Jemie, 1976; Hughes: The Poet and His Critics by Richard K. Barksdale, 1977; Hughes: Before and Beyond Harlem by Faith Berry, 1983; The Life of Hughes: I, Too, Hear America Singing (1902-41), vol. 1, 1986, and The Life of Hughes: I Dream a World (1941-1967), vol. 2, 1988, by Arnold Rampersad; Hughes and the Blues by Steven C. Hughes, 1988; Hughes by Jack Rummel, 1988; The Art and Imagination of Hughes by R. Baxter Miller, 1989; Langston Hughes, Folk Dramatist in the Protest Tradition, 1921-1943 by Joseph McLaren, 1997; Langston Hughes: The Contemporary Reviews, 1997.

* * *

Langston Hughes was the Harlem Renaissance man. Poet, playwright, novelist, journalist, essayist, humorist, musicologist, critic, editor, translator, and autobiographer, Hughes may be distinguished more for the breadth and variety of his literary career than for its depth. He was a celebrity, a major figure in modern American—not just African-American—literature. Harold Bloom has observed that "Hughes's principal work was his life, which is to say his literary career." Sadly, however, that life was tinged by an austere private loneliness that belied his public acceptance and acclaim. As Hughes's biographer Arnold Rampersad concludes, "If by the end [of his career] he was also famous and even beloved, Hughes knew that he had been cheated early of a richer emotional life." Nevertheless, Hughes rarely cheated his audience of the emotional richness his own life seemed to lack; rather, he displaced his personal emptiness with a fullness of literary activity marked always by the honesty of his characterizations, the energy of his dialogue, the humor of his perceptions, the dignity of his blues, and the courage of his cultural critique.

Hughes's short stories may not be quite as well known now as his other writing, but they occupy a substantial place in his canon, constituting some eight collections, only two of which are compilations of the other six. His first collection, The Ways of White Folks, features revisions of stories published in Esquire, Scribner's, and elsewhere and represents Hughes's intention to make his living as a writer. It signals Hughes's first consistent effort with the short story genre and initiates a critique of American culture he develops throughout his short fiction, a critique sometimes characterized by an incredulous, ironic tone as his narrators or characters expose the narrow, shortsighted ideology of his representative white characters and the shallowness of their practice; thus, he overturns the traditional white/black power structure, all without overly sentimentalizing or ennobling his African-American characters and their own cultural foibles, usually tempering his indictment of racism with a trace of humor as he, according to the blues, "laughs to keep from crying." In "A Good Job Gone" Hughes's self-centered narrator/protagonist bemoans the fate of his rich, promiscuous employer, Mr. Lloyd, who collapses into insanity over the loss of his African-American mistress, Pauline, amazed that Lloyd could misinterpret her mercenary acquiescence for love, but still placing the blame on her. "He was a swell guy when he had his right mind," the narrator concludes simplistically. "But a yellow woman sure did drive him crazy." In "Slave on the Block" and "Poor Little Black Fellow" Hughes exposes the racism inherent in supposedly liberal, progressive whites who "went in for Negroes," implying that white sponsorship merely enacts the same master/slave figure of traditional white/black relationships. Further, Hughes questions the absolute, yet ambiguous, definition of black and white that allows, in "Passing" for instance, one light-complected sibling to "pass for white" while it condemns his darker brother to racial servitude and the other to familial estrangement. In "Father and Son" Colonel Norwood's obituary notes that "the dead man left no heirs" despite his five children by his African-American housekeeper, Cora, two of whom were lynched by a white mob for his murder. Hughes sometimes walks on the edge of sensationalism in his stories—as in the conclusion of "Home," in which Roy Williams, a gifted violinist, is beaten and lynched on his return home from Europe, his "brown body, stark naked, strung from a tree at the edge of town … like a violin for the wind to play." Hughes, however, generally succeeds in evoking his vision both substantively and stylistically.

Laughing to Keep from Crying features stories of similar theme: ambiguous racial identity ("Who's Passing for Who?" and "African Morning"); tenuous alliances, sexual, racial, and otherwise ("Something in Common," "Heaven to Hell," "Sailor Ashore," "Slice Him Down," and "Name in the Papers"); and individual repression by bigotry ("Tain't So," "One Friday Morning," and "Professor"). Something in Common and Other Stories is a compilation of stories from Hughes's other collections.

The remainder of Hughes's short-story collections belong to his "Simple" series, based on his column from the Chicago Defender (1943-66): Simple Speaks His Mind; Simple Takes a Wife; Simple Stakes a Claim; The Best of Simple, a compilation from the previous three; and Simple's Uncle Sam. These stories center on the observations and experiences of Jesse B. Semple ("Simple"), a kind of African-American Everyman and composite Harlem folk hero with more than his share of wit and wisdom, who plays a lively and loquacious Johnson to his friend Boyd's Boswell whenever they meet, typically in one of their favorite bars. With opinions on everything from lingerie and landladies to Jim Crow and the constitution of the Supreme Court, Simple creates a rich narrative world for Harlem—both imaginative and real, like Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon or James Herriot's Yorkshire—and populates it with memorable characters, such as his persistent ex-wife, Isabel; his second wife, Joyce; his hustling cousin, Minnie; and his "nightime lady," Zarita. Susan L. Blake calls these stories "urban folktales" in the "political storytelling tradition of John-and-Old Marster cycle" that empower Simple as a commentator on the "otherwise" of African-American existence. But Hughes refrains from heavy-handed propaganda here. As he concludes in the foreword to Simple Stakes a Claim, "I would like to see some writers of both races write about our problems with black tongue in white cheek, or vice versa. Sometimes I try. Simple helps me."

—Phillip A. Snyder

See the essay on "The Blues I'm Playing."