Langston Hughes: The Black Bard at 100

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Langston Hughes (1902-1967) is perhaps the best known African-American writer of the twentieth century. His literary career spanned the years of the Harlem Renaissance, the social activism of the nineteen-thirties, and the civil rights movement of the postwar years. In his writings, he addressed all these social issues, as well as the everyday lives of Black Americans.

Hughes was an exceptionally versatile writer, publishing poetry, fiction, plays, essays and history, autobiography, and children's literature. He edited numerous noteworthy collections of Black writing, notably The Poetry of the Negro 1746-1949, with his friend Arna Bontemps, and Poems from Black Africa, Ethiopia and Other Countries. He was a translator, with a particular love of the writings of Spanish authors.

Hughes writings are to be found in every significant anthology of American poetry, and, since the 1920s, have been translated into many languages. His first book, The Weary Blues, was published in 1926. It included one of the poems for which he is best known, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers", first published in the Black periodical Crisis in 1921.

This exhibition in honor of Langston Hughes was mounted in the John Hay Library of Brown University in February 2002.
The Negro Speaks of Rivers


I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
       flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
        went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy
        bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.


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