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Langston Hughes: The Harlem Renaissance Genius - Essay Example

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Summary
'The literature of the vernacular' occupies a neat slot in the canon of black literature. Often labeled African American literature, the vernacular consisted of rap songs, sermons, ballads and blues that sang in praise of the black identity. These ingredients which were well used by novelists, playwrights and essayists formed a tradition that was not only different from the American but also distinct from it…
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Langston Hughes: The Harlem Renaissance Genius
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Langston Hughes: The Harlem Renaissance Genius

Download file to see previous pages... Although the roots of this African American tradition go long back, the early twentieth century, especially the 1920s was one of supreme creative activity. Much of it was focused on the district of Harlem in New York City. There was a significant increase in the scope and number of publications; literary productions including plays and songs found unprecedented popularity. Not for nothing is the period called Harlem Renaissance. The period however, is also marked by trauma and pathos. When the United States entered World War I (1914-1918) in 1917, there was a massive migration of blacks from the South to the North seeking employment and to escape the morbid living conditions that existed there as a result of the segregationist rulings of the U S Supreme Court. Chicago, Philadelphia and Cleveland were the main centers for immigration. However, it was in New York that a new sensibility got distilled. Harlem Renaissance blossomed in full bloom in this quintessential city. Of the many writers who helped to define its zeitgeist, the one who stands tall among the front ranks is Langston Hughes (1902 - 1967).
We younger Negro artists intend to express our dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they aren't, it does not matter. We build our temples for tomorrow, as strong as we know how and we stand on the top of the mountain, free within ourselves.
Most of the poems of Hughes express this strong concern for identity. For him the self and identity were the two universal motivating factors of great literature. We shall take a sampling from his oeuvre to prove how he puts the point through.

One of the most famous poems of Hughes is the short lyric called 'The Negro Speaks of Rivers'. It was written in July 1920. The poem would milk more if we knew a bit of its history. During 1916-1920, the friends of Hughes introduced him to many socialist ideas by lending him classics like Ethel Boole Voynich's The Gadfly (1891) and the works of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Guy de Maupassant. In July 1920, on the train to visit his father in Mexico, crossing the Mississippi river to St. Louis, Hughes wrote this lyric. "Through the images of water and pyramid, the verse suggests the endurance of human spirituality from the time of the ancient Egypt to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The muddy Mississippi made Hughes think of the roles in human history played by the Congo, the Niger and the Nile. The draft he first wrote on the back of an envelope in fifteen minutes has become Hughes's most anthologized poem2."
I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi.

The poem, hailed as one of the finest by Hughes, is essentially a record of the five - score- and - more - year old history of the battle of the blacks for equal rights with the whites. The long journey from Euphrates to Mississippi is resonant of the gurgling, eventful past of the blacks. The poem is dedicated to W. E. B. Du Bois, the famous Civil ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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