Writers and Artists who Influenced the Harlem Renaissance
Langston Hughes was born to James Hughes and Carrie Langston on February 1, 1902 in Joplin, Missouri. His parents split up soon after his birth and was mainly raised by his grandmother Mary. His grandmother died in his early teens when he returned to being raised by his mother. Hughes graduated high school in 1920 and traveled to Mexico for the following year to see his father who had moved there when his parents split up. In 1921 Hughes returned to the United States and enrolled in Columbia university. He studied there for a short period of time, and in that time he became more interested and involved in Harlem’s cultural movement, the Harlem Renaissance. In 1922 Hughes dropped out of Columbia university and worked various jobs around New York City until he got a job as a steward on a ship that took him to Africa and Spain. He also lived in Paris for a brief time where he developed and eventually started to publish his works in poetry. On May 22, 1967 Hughes died of prostate cancer. His home in Harlem reached New York City Landmark status in 1981. His works continue to be published and translated into new languages to this day.
The poem “Harlem” is likely the most famous of any of Langston Hughes works. Written in 1951 Hughes discusses one of the most common themes in his poems, how the “American dream” falls short for African Americans. The reason he titled it “Harlem” is because of the neighborhood in New York that became the center of the Harlem Renaissance. African Americans saw this place as a safe house or refuge from the discrimination they faced in their daily lives. It is, after all, safe to say that Langston Hughes created a great deal of pride for African Americans who read this poem, and created a sense of hope that they would see their children grow up in American society where the American Dream was a reality for African Americans.
In his poem, the first line asks a bold question, “what happens to a dream deferred.” After this is asked, there are a few lines blank to symbolize and create a sense of silence. He then uses very somewhat dark examples to what happened to this dream. He uses vivid imagery in these examples like: drying up, stinking, exploding, and crusting over. Imagery plays a huge role in this part of the poem because you can see, and feel, and smell, and even taste all of these aspects and makes you wonder what kind of dream this really is.
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up a raisin in the sun?
Fester like a sore then run?
It stink like rotten meat?
Crust and sugar over like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
Aaron Douglas was born in Topeka, Kansas on May 26, 1899 and often lived in Detroit, Michigan. Douglas studied art at the University of Minnesota and University of Nebraska at Lincoln. He earned his bachelors degree from The University of Nebraska at Lincoln in 1922 and then moved to Kansas City to teach art as a high school teacher . In 1925 he packed up and moved to Harlem where he immediately started illustrating for a magazine called The Crisis and Opportunity. Douglas also illustrated books, most famously The New Negro by Aidan Locke. In Douglas’ eyes, art was a matter of depicting life in a way that spoke to the black masses. His impactful images were mainly influenced by African Art, cubism, and modernism. He later became a professor in 1939 after the complete depletion of the Harlem Renaissance at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee where he devoted himself to inspiring and spreading his knowledge to a new generation of black artists. He worked there for 27 years. Douglas died on February 2, 1979.