Google has marked what would have been the 113th birthday of pioneering African-American jazz poet and social activist, Langston Hughes with a Doodle on its homepage, the Geopolitical and Conflict Report has announced. He was a true friend of the Caribbean, especially of Haiti, so we join in the celebration of his birthday.
The animated sequence shows a caricature of Hughes at his typewriter as lines from his poem I Dream a World appear.
Hughes was born in 1902 in Joplin, Missouri, and largely raised by his grandmother while his mother looked for work. His father – with whom he had troubled relationship – had left the family and travelled to Cuba and Mexico in an attempt to escape the racism that was rife in America at the time. Hughes joined his father in Mexico and agreed to study engineering so long as he could attend Colombia University. He left the following year due to racial prejudice.
He travelled to West Africa and Europe, before returning to the US taking various jobs before meeting the poet Vachel Lindsay while working as a busboy at a Washington hotel. Lindsay was impressed with Hughes’ work and became his patron.
By now, his work was appearing in magazines such as The Crisis, the official magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and his first poetry collection The Weary Blues (1926) was published.
After gaining his degree at Lincoln University, Hughes returned to Harlem, where he remained for the rest of his life apart from trips to the Caribbean and the Soviet Union, where he was drawn to the idea of Communism like many black writers and artists of his time in segregated America.
His work was influential during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, which saw Hughes and his contemporaries Zora Neale Hurston, Wallace Thurman, Claude McKay, Countee Cullen, Richard Bruce Nugent, and Aaron Douglas, criticising the racial prejudices through their work which stressed a ‘black is beautiful’ theme. Hughes also wrote what amounted to their manifesto ‘The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain’, which was published in The Nation in 1926.
On his work, Hughes is quoted as saying: “My seeking has been to explain and illuminate the Negro condition in America and obliquely that of all human kind.” He hoped to inspire black writers to be objective about their race and embrace it, though felt the young writers of the Black Power movement of the 1960s were too angry.
In 1930, Not Without Laughter was published, the first of many novels and short stories. He was also a prolific writer of non-fiction and a playwright over the next four decades.
He died on May 22, 1967, from complications following abdominal surgery, aged 65.