In This Article Langston Hughes

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies and Other Reference Works
  • Biographies
  • Correspondence
  • Archives
  • Film, Television, and Internet Resources

American Literature Langston Hughes
by
Vera Kutzinski
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0026

Introduction

Born James Langston Hughes in Joplin, Missouri, Langston Hughes (b. 1902–d. 1967) was likely the most influential writer who emerged from the Harlem Renaissance. He was the first one of this group to establish an enduring national and international reputation. Hughes established his national standing as the “Poet Laureate of the Negro Race” with The Weary Blues and the controversial essay “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” in 1926. By the time he graduated from Lincoln University, Pennsylvania, in 1929, he had published a second volume of poems, Fine Clothes to the Jew (1927). Having lived in Mexico for more than a year as a teenager, by 1929 Hughes had also visited West Africa, France (where he spent several months), and Italy. Extended trips to Haiti, Cuba, the Soviet Union, and Spain followed, as did translations of his poems into Spanish, German, French, Russian, and many other languages. Though best known as a poet, Hughes was a prolific and versatile writer working in numerous literary genres as well as in journalism and popular history. Widely celebrated for his blues poetry and, more recently, for his experimental poems from the 1950s and early 1960s, Hispanic American audiences in particular praised Hughes for his verse influenced by international communism. However, this radical verse landed him in serious trouble at home. In the 1940s and 1950s, Hughes became the target of smear campaigns and FBI surveillance. Although Hughes disavowed his political past in his 1953 publicly broadcast testimony before Joseph McCarthy’s infamous Senate subcommittee, a measure of unease about his communist leanings has lingered in Hughes scholarship in the United States, where his radical poetry from the 1930s has had relatively few admirers and has often been dismissed as propaganda. Ironically, the very simplicity that made his writing accessible to and popular with so many different audiences across the world has also created the notion among too-many scholars that Hughes’s writing lacks literary complexity. As a result, neither his novels nor his autobiographies have met with abundant critical analysis, much less acclaim. Quite in contrast to Hughes’s short fiction, especially the Simple stories from the 1940s and 1950s, these texts have only attracted the critical attention they deserve since the third quarter of the 20th century, and especially in the early 21st century. Similarly, scholars have neglected Hughes’s plays, his translations of writers such as Federico García Lorca and Jacques Roumain, and his extensive journalism. Since the mid-1990s, however, the landscape of Hughes studies has changed significantly as scholars have increasingly challenged the view of Hughes as a straightforward and even shallow writer.

General Overviews

There are fewer scholarly monographs on Hughes than one might expect, given the length of his career and the sheer volume of writing he produced. Comprehensive studies of Hughes’s writings are even rarer because of the difficulty of doing justice to Hughes’s multigenre oeuvre. With the exception of Emanuel 1967 (cited under Biographies) and Barksdale 1977 (cited under Criticism: Poetry), critical overviews of Hughes’s work have thus taken the shape of essay collections. Most valuable among the essay collections are O’Daniel 1971, Tracy 2004, Tidwell and Ragar 2007, and Miller 2013, which offer original scholarship rather than reprints. Collections of reprints, such as Bloom 1989 and especially Bloom 2008, are starting to outlive their usefulness at a time when most journal publications are available in full-text digital formats online. Although technically a reference work, De Santis 2005 (cited under Bibliographies and Other Reference Works) provides by far the most effective historical overview of Hughes’s life and work, through a collage of documents rather than a more linear and univocal scholarly narrative.

  • Bloom, Harold, ed. Langston Hughes. Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House, 1989.

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    Reprints twelve fairly brief critical essays by well-established Hughes scholars, arranged chronologically from 1968 to 1985. This historical overview of Hughes criticism is still useful for graduates and undergraduates.

  • Bloom, Harold, ed. Langston Hughes. New ed. Bloom’s Modern Critical Views. New York: Bloom’s Literary Criticism, 2008.

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    Reprints of eleven chronologically organized essays (1986–2006) that supplement Bloom 1989. Includes Ford 1992 (cited under Criticism: Short Fiction), Thomas 1998 (cited under Criticism: Novels), Patterson 2000 (cited under Criticism: Poetry), and Tracy 2002 (cited under Primary Works and Textbooks: Juvenilia). Available as e-book.

  • Gates, Henry Louis, Jr., and Kwame Anthony Appiah, eds. Langston Hughes: Critical Perspectives Past and Present. Amistad Literary Series. New York: Amistad, 1993.

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    This collection offers nine essays by known Hughes scholars such as Arnold Rampersad, Steven Tracy, Richard Barksdale, and R. Baxter Miller, alongside reprinted reviews of Hughes’s work by Countee Cullen, Jessie Fauset, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and others, a more complete gathering of which is available in Dace 1997 (cited under Bibliographies and Other Reference Works).

  • Miller, R. Baxter, ed. Critical Insights: Langston Hughes. Ipswich, MA: Salem, 2013.

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    A collection of sixteen previously unpublished essays remarkable for the combined breadth of coverage of the critical reception of Hughes’s work in the United States and Latin America, his portrayal of women and families, his politics, and his depictions of racial violence. A pricey volume, but it includes online access.

  • Mullen, Edward J., ed. Critical Essays on Langston Hughes. Critical Essays on American Literature. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1986.

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    Mainly a collection of reprints that, like Gates and Appiah 1993, includes reviews of Hughes’s books, along with twelve articles (three of them new) to show the evolution of Hughes criticism since the 1920s. The introduction covers the reception of Hughes’s poetry, prose, and drama and outlines key debates.

  • O’Daniel, Therman B., ed. Langston Hughes, Black Genius: A Critical Evaluation. New York: William Morrow, 1971.

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    A historic collection of fourteen early essays that include contributions by the editor, Arthur P. Davis, Darwin Turner (on Hughes as playwright), Blyden Jackson (on the Simple stories), James Emanuel (on Hughes’s experimental poetry and his short fiction), Matheus 1968 (cited under Criticism: Hughes in Translation), and George Kent (on Hughes and the African American folk tradition).

  • Tidwell, John Edgar, and Cheryl R. Ragar, eds. Montage of a Dream: The Art and Life of Langston Hughes. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2007.

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    The eighteen contributions to this useful volume include new essays on Hughes’s plays, his works for children, his political poetry (Young 2007, cited under Hughes as Political Writer), Carrie Hughes Clark’s letters (Williams and Williams 2007, cited under Biographies), gender and sexuality (Baldwin 2007, cited under Criticism: Short Fiction; Banks 2007, cited under Criticism: Novels; Bennett 2007, cited under Hughes, Gender, and Sexuality; and Schultz 2002, cited under Criticism: Novels), and Hughes as Hollywood screenwriter (Cripps 2007, cited under Film, Television, and Internet Resources).

  • Tracy, Steven C., ed. A Historical Guide to Langston Hughes. Historical Guides to American Authors. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

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    A well-conceived introduction to Hughes and his work that is suitable for undergraduate courses. Includes an informative introduction, a brief biography, a bibliographical essay, and four additional essays on literary uses of place, African American vernacular music, gender-racial issues, and Hughes as a social poet.

  • Trotman, C. James, ed. Langston Hughes: The Man, His Art, and His Continuing Influence. Papers presented 26–28 March 1992 at Lincoln University, Pennsylvania. Critical Studies on Black Life and Culture. New York: Routledge, 2012.

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    Conference proceedings originally published in 1995. Included are fifteen essays and a photo section. Featured topics include blues and blues poetry and the representation of women in Hughes’s writings. Includes a rare essay on the poems Hughes contributed to Carl Van Vechten’s novel Nigger Heaven (1926).

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