James Langston Mercer Hughes was born on February 1, 1902, in Joplin, Missouri and died on May 22, 1967, in New York, New York.
His first successful poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” was published in The Crisis magazine in 1920 and met with high praise. In 1921 he enrolled in Columbia University where he studied briefly, and during which time became a part of Harlem’s burgeoning cultural movement, commonly known as the Harlem Renaissance. Hughes later dropped out of school, traveled around the world doing various jobs. In 1925, he met Vachel Lindsay, showed some of his poems to Lindsay who was impressed enough to use his connections to promote Hughes’s poetry and bring it to a wider audience.
In 1940, at 28 years old, Hughes published his autobiography, The Big Sea. Around that same time he began contributing to a column in the Chicago Defender, for which he created a comic character name Jesse B. Semple, better known as “Simple,” a black Everyman that Hughes used to further explore urban, working-class black themes, and to address racial issues. The columns were highly successful and “Simple” would later be the focus of sever of Hughes’s books and plays.
From the 1940s until his death, Hughes continued prolific output of poetry, plays and other works. On May 22, 1967, Langston Hughes died from complications of prostate cancer. A tribute to his poetry, his funeral contained little in the way of spoken eulogy, but was filled with jazz and blues music. Hughes’s ashes were interred beneath the entrance of the Arthur Schomberg Center for Research in Black culture in Harlem. The inscription marking the spot features a line from Hughes’s poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” It reads: “My soul has grown deep like the rivers.”
His work continues to be published and translated throughout the world.
For more information go to: http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/83
The month of February is Black History month. I did a little research to find out more about some of the African-American writers who deserve to be honored this month.
We are all familiar with writers, such as Terry McMillan author of Waiting to Exhale (1992); and Toni Morrison, 1993 Nobel Prize winner and author of Beloved (1987) for which she won a Pulitzer Prize. The list also includes such writers as Alex Haley whose book Roots: The Saga of an American Family (1976) was adapted to a popular television mini-series in 1977.
But the list of African-American writers of note not only includes these famous individuals and those such as poets Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou as well as novelist Alice Walker; it also includes more obscure names–people whose works you might have read and not realized that they were African-American.
Frank Yerby was an historical novelist best known as the first African-American writer to become a millionaire from his pen, and to have a book purchased by a Hollywood studio for a film adaptation. The book, The Foxes of Harrow (1946) became the Oscar-nominated film “Foxes” starring Rex Harrison and Maureen O’Hara.
Samuel R. Delany is an author, professor and literary critic. His work includes a number of novels, many in the science fiction genre, as well as memoir and criticism.
Octavia Butler (1947-2006) was a Hugo and Nebulla award-winning author of science fiction.
Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784) was the first African-American poet and the first African-American woman to publish a book. Born in Senegambia, she was sold into slavery at the age of 7 or 8 and transported to North America. She was purchased by the Wheatley family of Boston, who taught her to read and write, and encouraged her poetry when they saw her talent.
The publication of her Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773) brought her fame, both in England, and the Thirteen Colonies; figures such as George Washington praised her work. During Wheatley’s visit to England, the African-American poet Jupiter Hammon praised her work in his own poem.
This list is woefully incomplete. It would take far too much time to list every African-American writer–past and present–whose name deserves inclusion in such a list. During the month of February I challenge readers to visit the internet or your local library to discover the work of more of the gifted writers whose names belong here and share with PPW what you find. Who is your favorite? What genre do they write?
Filed under Black History, books, genres, poetry, prose, publishing, read, reading, research, short stories, writers