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Langston Hughes

I, Too

About this poet

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James Mercer Langston Hughes was born February 1, 1902, in Joplin, Missouri. His parents divorced when he was a young child, and his father moved to Mexico. He was raised by his grandmother until he was thirteen, when he moved to Lincoln, Illinois, to live with his mother and her husband, before the family eventually settled in Cleveland, Ohio. It was in Lincoln that Hughes began writing poetry. After graduating from high school, he spent a year in Mexico followed by a year at Columbia University in New York City. During this time, he held odd jobs such as assistant cook, launderer, and busboy. He also travelled to Africa and Europe working as a seaman. In November 1924, he moved to Washington, D. C. Hughes's first book of poetry, The Weary Blues, (Knopf, 1926) was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1926. He finished his college education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania three years later. In 1930 his first novel, Not Without Laughter, (Knopf, 1930) won the Harmon gold medal for literature.

Hughes, who claimed Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Carl Sandburg, and Walt Whitman as his primary influences, is particularly known for his insightful, colorful portrayals of black life in America from the twenties through the sixties. He wrote novels, short stories and plays, as well as poetry, and is also known for his engagement with the world of jazz and the influence it had on his writing, as in his book-length poem Montage of a Dream Deferred (Holt, 1951). His life and work were enormously important in shaping the artistic contributions of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. Unlike other notable black poets of the period—Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, and Countee Cullen—Hughes refused to differentiate between his personal experience and the common experience of black America. He wanted to tell the stories of his people in ways that reflected their actual culture, including both their suffering and their love of music, laughter, and language itself.

The critic Donald B. Gibson noted in the introduction to Modern Black Poets: A Collection of Critical Essays (Prentice Hall, 1973) that Hughes "differed from most of his predecessors among black poets . . . in that he addressed his poetry to the people, specifically to black people. During the twenties when most American poets were turning inward, writing obscure and esoteric poetry to an ever decreasing audience of readers, Hughes was turning outward, using language and themes, attitudes and ideas familiar to anyone who had the ability simply to read . . . Until the time of his death, he spread his message humorously—though always seriously—to audiences throughout the country, having read his poetry to more people (possibly) than any other American poet."

Langston Hughes died of complications from prostate cancer in May 22, 1967, in New York City. In his memory, his residence at 20 East 127th Street in Harlem has been given landmark status by the New York City Preservation Commission, and East 127th Street has been renamed "Langston Hughes Place."

In addition to leaving us a large body of poetic work, Hughes wrote eleven plays and countless works of prose, including the well-known “Simple” books: Simple Speaks His Mind, (Simon & Schuster, 1950); Simple Stakes a Claim, (Rinehart, 1957); Simple Takes a Wife, (Simon & Schuster, 1953); and Simple's Uncle Sam (Hill and Wang, 1965). He edited the anthologies The Poetry of the Negro and The Book of Negro Folklore, wrote an acclaimed autobiography, The Big Sea (Knopf, 1940), and cowrote the play Mule Bone (HarperCollins, 1991) with Zora Neale Hurston.



Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Collected Poems of Langston Hughes (Knopf, 1994)
The Panther and the Lash: Poems of Our Times (Knopf, 1967)
Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz (Knopf, 1961)
Montage of a Dream Deferred (Holt, 1951)
One-Way Ticket (Knopf, 1949)
Fields of Wonder (Knopf, 1947)
Freedom's Plow (Musette Publishers, 1943)
Shakespeare in Harlem (Knopf, 1942)
The Dream Keeper and Other Poems (Knopf, 1932)
Scottsboro Limited (The Golden Stair Press, 1932)
Dear Lovely Death (Troutbeck Press, 1931)
Fine Clothes to the Jew (Knopf, 1927)
The Weary Blues (Knopf, 1926)

Prose

Remember Me to Harlem: The Letters of Langston Hughes and Carl Van Vechten, 1925-1964 (Knopf, 2001)
The Arna Bontemps-Langston Hughes Letters (Dodd, Mead, 1980)
Good Morning, Revolution: Uncollected Social Protest Writings by Langston Hughes (Hill, 1973)
Simple's Uncle Sam (Hill and Wang, 1965)
Something in Common and Other Stories (Hill and Wang, 1963)
Tambourines to Glory (John Day, 1958)
Simple Stakes a Claim (Rinehart, 1957)
I Wonder as I Wander (Rinehart, 1956)
Laughing to Keep From Crying (Holt, 1952)
Simple Takes a Wife (Simon & Schuster, 1953)
Simple Speaks His Mind (Simon & Schuster, 1950)
The Ways of White Folks (Knopf, 1934)
Not Without Laughter (Knopf, 1930)

Drama

Collected Works of Langston Hughes, vol. 5: The Plays to 1942: Mulatto to The Sun Do Move (University of Missouri Press, 2000)
The Political Plays of Langston Hughes (Southern Illinois University Press, 2000)
Mule Bone (HarperCollins, 1991)
Five Plays by Langston Hughes (Indiana University Press, 1963)

Poetry in Translation

Cuba Libre (Anderson & Ritchie, 1948)
Selected Poems of Gabriela Mistral (Indiana University Press, 1957)

Translation

Masters of the Dew (Reynal & Hitchcock, 1947)

I, Too

Langston Hughes, 1902 - 1967

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,"
Then.

Besides, 
They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Knopf and Vintage Books. Copyright © 1994 by the Estate of Langston Hughes. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated.

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Knopf and Vintage Books. Copyright © 1994 by the Estate of Langston Hughes. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated.

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Lemon Andersen reads on the High Line as part of “After Sunset: Poetry Walk," New York City, 2015.
poem

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.
Maya Angelou
1978
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