Who Was Langston Hughes?
At the height of his feme, Langston Hughes (1902-67) was esteemed as “Shakespeare in Harlem,” a sobriquet he borrowed for the title of a 1942 volume of poems. By this point in his career, Hughes had already been credited with some of the finest work in the great flowering of African-American literature known as the Harlem Renaissance. Just as significantly, he had also emerged as one of the most acclaimed writers of the radical Left.
Hughes never did abandon the language of racial protest; a revealing measure of his influence may be found in famous works whose titles are themselves quotations from his poems, among them James Baldwin’s Nobody Knows My Name, Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, and John Howard Griffin’s Black Like Me. As such borrowings also suggest, however, Hughes has remained an important writer not for his politics alone, but because of his unusual genius for refining ideology into the language of popular art.
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