Langston Hughes was not only an important writer during the Harlem Renaissance, but his works are still very relevant now. One of the reasons we look at his works is because of the importance of a black perspective during this time period. Another reason we still look at his works is because of the strong similarities in his writings that can be related to even now. Most of his poems were inspired by life in Harlem, New York City, which was a mostly African American neighborhood. In them you see themes of race, injustice, equality, identity, America, and many other influencers of his work. His works have survived him because many of the things he talks about, have stayed relevant to us, and we can still relate to a lot of it.
In a great deal of his works, race mattered. Out of the six poems we read for this week’s readings, five of them directly mentioned race. Even the sixth poem, “Dreams,” which doesn’t outwardly acknowledge race as a factor, in the context of the times it was written, race very much played a factor in the possible outcome of one’s dreams. Another important component of his writing is the way in which he approaches issues about America. Often when he mentions America, he recognizes it as an establishment that he is not a part of. In “Will V-Day Be Me-Day Too?,” he questions how much of a victory it will be because although it would be great for America, it won’t mean much for his progress as a black man. In the poem “I Too,” although he says “I, too, am America,” he does so trying to convince Americans that he does belong because they think otherwise. And then in his poem, “Let America Be America Again,” he explains how the greatness of America doesn’t apply to him and other marginalized people. These are just a few of the characteristics of his poems, but they are still applicable to us today. Although we have progressed since then, the social/political climate in the US has produced similar feelings, which is why I think we look back to his works and it still resonates.
The poem that stood out to me the most amongst these readings was “Themes for English B.” I think what stood out to me the most about this poem was the idea of truth being connected to race. Hughes gives the biography of a young black and describes what his truth is. It matters that he is black, from the North, and lives in Harlem. He has typical interests just like anyone else would. However, these identifiers are not at all the same for his teacher because he is white and his whiteness is his truth. Their truths come from being connected to one another but also being disconnected at the same time. He makes a point to add that this is American. Our history has forever intertwined the livelihood of blacks and whites but yet, there is still an obvious separation. In this poem, as well as many others, he is insinuating the idea of a white America and a black one, both with separate truths. These truths are the histories that came before them. There’s not one that’s right or wrong, but there are obvious differences that play a role in who they are, and how they understand each other.