Happy Birthday, Langston Hughes

My Mother, Carolyn, Holding Me, Langston HughesWhen I was in high school, Langston Hughes was one of two Black poets my White English teacher glossed over (the other was Gwendolyn Brooks). “A Dream Deferred”? The message in the poem was obvious, she said, and we turned the page. I’m including this moment in You, a young adult novel I’m revising, because I still remember it. It was a moment that taught me so much about power, silencing, and quiet resistance.

At the 2013 College Language Association Conference, an association “founded in 1937 by Black scholars and educators,” I was fortunate enough to attend the Langston Hughes luncheon where poet Tony Medina gave a talk on Langston Hughes and Black children. For many of us, Langston Hughes was (and continues to be) an early introduction to the sounds of Blackness in poetry, which is another way of saying Hughes’s poetry is a Black Space, a place where we can see, hear, and imagine ourselves in our lived present, our remembered past, and our possible futures. Writer Kima Jones puts it best:

A couple of my favorite Hughes poems:

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And an excerpt from “Harlem Sweeties”:

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Here, Langston Hughes reading “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”

Finally, for the record, shout out to my high school English teacher, there’s nothing obvious or simple about a dream deferred, the poem or the lived experience.

Happy Birthday, Langston.