Langston Hughes (1902 – 1967) was an American poet and children's writer, one of the central figures in the literary movement known as the Harlem Renaissance. His works include The Weary Blues (1926), The Ways of White Folks (1934), Shakespeare in Harlem (1941), and Ask Your Mama (1961).
Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri, but as his father left the United States to escape racism, he was raised by his mother's mom, Mary Patterson Langston, in Lawrence, Kansas and grew up in several small towns. He spent a year at Columbia University and worked at several odd jobs before his first book of poems, The Weary Blues, was published by Knopf in 1926.
Imbued with a sense of racial pride, he wrote many poems inspired by New York's Harlem. After The Weary Blues, he wrote many poems with jazzy rhythms and typical black dialects, in 1929 his first novel Not Without Laughter and in 1934 his first collection of short stories. In his Fine Clothes to the Jew, he described Harlem to the chagrin of Negro critics, and stated in his autobiography the Big Sea:
|“||Fine Clothes to the Jew was well received by the literary magazines and the white press, but the Negro critics did not like it at all. The Pittsburgh Courier ran a big headline across the top of the page, LANGSTON HUGHES' BOOK OF POEMS TRASH. The headline in the New York Amsterdam News was LANGSTON HUGHES—THE SEWER DWELLER. The Chicago Whip characterized me as 'the poet low-rate of Harlem.' Others called the book a disgrace to the race, a return to the dialect tradition, and a parading of all our racial defects before the public. . . . The Negro critics and many of the intellectuals were very sensitive about their race in books. (And still are.) In anything that white people were likely to read, they wanted to put their best foot forward, their politely polished and cultural foot—and only that foot.||”|
- The New York Public Library Student's Desk Reference. Prentice Hall, New York: 1991.