Remembering Langston Hughes, the “O.Henry of Harlem”

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed – 
Let it be that great strong land of love 
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme 
That any man be crushed by one above.   Langston Hughes

The words of hope were written by African American poet Langston Hughes, born this day in Joplin, Missouri, in 1902. His early years were difficult, many moves and the loss of parents and his caregiving grandmother. Hughes found solace in reading, reflecting later, “then it was that books began to happen to me, and I began to believe in nothing but books and the wonderful world of books – where if people suffered, they suffered in beautiful language not in monosyllables, as in Kansas.”

Restless and apparently weary of traveling the world, Hughes settled in Harlem where he was active in the Harlem Renaissance, a utopian environment for creative African Americans. His writing reflecting the world around him; when asked, Hughes shared this description of the topics he explored and reflected in his prolific writing. His words ring true for many in these times:

People up today and down tomorrow, working this week and fired the next, beaten and baffled, but determined not to be wholly beaten, buying furniture on the installment plan, filling the house with rooms to help pay the rent, hoping to get a new suit for Easter – and pawning that suit before the Fourth of July.

When Hughes died of cancer in 1967 the New York Times reported: “Mr. Hughes was sometimes characterized as the ‘O. Henry of Harlem.’ He was an extremely versatile and productive author who was particularly well known for his folksy humor.'”

There’s much to learn about this renowned poet, essayist, novelist, playwright and prolific letter writer:

  • Learn about the Langston Hughes Center at the University of Kansas, a repository of Hughes’ work and a center for research and teaching about his life and literary contributions.

UPDATE:  Read more Langston Hughes quotes here:




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