Most scholars would concur with critic, Arthur P. Davis's assessment, in that:
"Poet, fiction writer, dramatist, newspaper columnist, writer of autobiography, anthologist, compiler of children's works, and translator, Langston Hughes was by far the most experimental and versatile author of the [Harlem] Renaissance--and time may find him the greatest."
When he resided in Lincoln, Illinois with his divorced mother and stepfather, he was chosen as a class poet in junior high school; he became editor of his high school's yearbook in Cleveland.
In 1921, during an emotionally disturbing visit with his father in Mexico, Hughes taught English in Mexican schools and published his first poem, which appeared in Crisis entitled, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers".
During the same year various key events occurred: Hughes received recognition from established white writers, won first prize for poetry from Opportunity Magazine, and entered Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, which is where he won the Wittier Bynner Prize for undergraduate poetry prior to earning his bachelor's degree in 1929.
During 1926, he published his first volume of poetry, The Weary Blues, and was held as one of the most promising artist of the Harlem Renaissance.
In this and his earlier work, he displayed attributes that would distinguish poetry for life. (e.g., free verse forms, love of the blues and jazz, respect for black language and folkways, racial pride and survival themes, etc.).
The majority of his writing emphasize the American aspect of being black, particularly the rights of all black people to pursue their part of the American dream.
His poetry output was remarkable.
Following the Weary Blues, he published numerous other volumes of poetry:
- Fine Clothes to the Jew
- The Dream Keeper
- Shakespeare in Harlem
- Fields of Wonder
- One Way Ticket
- Montage of a Dream Deferred
- Selected Poems of Langston Hughes
- Ask your mama: 12 Moods of Jazz
- Panther and the Lash
Hughes's prose, which ranges from fiction and drama to autobiographical editorial works, includes the novels:
Many of his short stories are collected in:
These pieces are collected in five volumes and were published between 1950 and 1965.
"A coolly comic view of Black and white America."
Hughes edited and collaborated on various books of American Black literature and history, such as:
- The Best Short Stories by Negro Writers
- The Poetry of the Negro, co-edited with Arna Bontemps
- Fight for Freedom: The Story of the NAACP
He also wrote full-length plays, one-act plays and a musical. In 1963, he published the collection Five Plays. It contains his most acclaimed drama, Mulatto, which had run on Broadway for a year.
The following poems come from various collections published in 1920s to the 1960s. The first few poems display Hughes's skill at employing the free verse form to create diverse tones and delineate different things.
The last poem uses discernible rhyming patterns and rhythm-shaping repetition. Enjoy.
by Langston Hughes
Sometimes there’s a wind in the Georgia dusk
That cries and cries and cries
Its lonely pity through the Georgia dusk
Veiling what the darkness hides
Sometimes there’s blood in the Georgia dusk
Left by a streak of sun
A crimson trickle in the Georgia dusk
Whose Blood? …Everyone’s
Sometimes a wind in the Georgia dusk
Scatters hate like seed
To sprout its bitter barriers
Where the sunsets bleed