When 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:
Happy Birthday, Langston Hughes. He was the most important writer to me as a girl poet. His poems were the entirety of my young world.
— Kima Jones (@kima_jones) February 1, 2014
A couple of my favorite Hughes poems:
And an excerpt from “Harlem Sweeties”:
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.
As part of this year’s blogging101 course, the assignment was to read 5 new topics and 5 new blogs from the Reader. I’m so glad that I decided to do this course because I did not know that Langston Hughes (although I had of course heard of him) was a Black poet. In recent years I have discovered and stumbled across many Black poets, Pushkin for one. We are not taught about Black poets/poetry. This is a tragedy.
I mentioned your site on my post: “Bloggers’ Delight” – hope you like the mention!
Dear Langston, I was just 10 when you put down your pen.Thank you for your poetry, it has been my therapy. When I skipped school I would go to the library in Savannah, GA and read your works. I embraced your words and they remain with me today. Fast forward 30 years and you’ll find that I love you so much I named my son after you. Thank you Langston Hughes and Happy Birthday to you!!!