Langston Hughes @ your library

Book cover: I Too Am America

February marks not only Black History Month, but the birthday of one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, Langston Hughes.

Born on Feb. 1, 1902, in Joplin, Mo. James Langston Hughes was raised mainly by his maternal grandmother in Lawrence, Kan., while his mother looked for work. It was in Lawrence that Hughes developed his love of books, which he discussed in his memoir Big Sea:

"I was unhappy for a long time, and very lonesome, living with my grandmother. Then it was that books began to happen to me, and I began to believe in nothing but books and the wonderful world in books — where if people suffered, they suffered in beautiful language, not in monosyllables, as we did in Kansas."

His love affair with words would continue for a life time. At 19, Hughes published what would become his signature poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” As a student at Columbia University in the 1920s Hughes's life and work influenced and influential during the Harlem Renaissance, during which time he worked with Zora Neale Hurston, Wallace Thurman, Countee Cullen, Richard Bruce Nugent, and Aaron Douglas on the magazine Fire!! Devoted to Younger Negro Artists.

Hughes poems are known for their depiction of the real lives of African Americans in the lower social-economic strata, and criticized the divisions and prejudices based on skin color stressing the theme "black is beautiful." The central focus of much of Hughes’ works was to uplift African Americans, whose strengths, resiliency, courage and humor he wanted to record as part of the American experience.

Share Hughes’ poetry and legacy with your children during Black History Month. In recent years a number of Hughes poems have been brought to a new generation as picture books for children. These include Coretta Scott King winner and honor books:

My People I, too, am America
illustrator Bryan Collier
text by Langston Hughes.

Coretta Scott King Book Award:
2013 Illustrator Award Winner

My PeopleMy People
illustrator Charles R. Smith, Jr.
text by Langston Hughes.

The Negro Speaks of Rivers The Negro Speaks of Rivers
illustrator E.B. Lewis
text by Langston Hughes.

Poetry for Young People Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes
illustrator Benny Andrews
edited by David Roessel and Arnold Rampersad.


For ideas on how you can spend quality time with your children and teens during Black History Month, check out the Cultural Heritage section of the Connect with your kids @ your library Family Activity Guide.

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