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PHOTO ESSAY

Twentieth Century Literary Giants

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Langston Hughes

Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution/Art Resource, NY.

More than 100 years after his birth in Joplin, Missouri, the poet, playwright, novelist, anthologist, and newspaper columnist Langston Hughes remains one of the towering figures of modern American literature. One of the most innovative writers from the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, Hughes's use of blues and jazz as sources of inspiration resulted in a unique style best exemplified in his collections Montage of a Dream Deferred (1951) and Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz (1961). The first African American to successfully make a career working solely as a writer, Hughes's work is characterized by both racial pride and pessimism at the poor race relations that characterized America throughout his life, as well as by sympathy for poor, working-class people that stemmed from his own childhood poverty. Yet the spirit of emotional uplift and the desire for greater understanding and humanity that infuses all of Hughes's work speaks powerfully to people of all races and all walks of life.

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