The Poet Langston Hughes – Born Today in 1902

Image credit: Ole Fossgård / Creative Commons license

James Mercer Langston Hughes was born February 1, 1902, in Joplin, Missouri, and died on May 22, 1967 in New York City. He gave us a treasure trove of poetry, eleven plays, and countless works of prose. His work gave a resonant voice of beauty and humanity to Black Americans living with daily racism and segregation, from the Harlem Renaissance through the Civil Rights Movement. In honor of his birthday we include here some of his poems, and an audio recording of him reciting some of his works, to a background of music.

Harlem, from the collection Montage, 1953

What happens to a dream deferred?

      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?
      Or fester like a sore—
      And then run?
      Does it stink like rotten meat?
      Or crust and sugar over—
      like a syrupy sweet?

      Maybe it just sags
      like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Harlem, from the collection One-Way Ticket

Here on the edge of hell
Stands Harlem—
Remembering the old lies, 
The old kicks in the back,
The old “Be patient”
They told us before.

Sure, we remember.
Now when the man at the corner store
Says sugar’s gone up another two cents,
And bread one,
And there’s a new tax on cigarettes—
We remember the job we never had,
Never could get,
And can’t have now
Because we’re colored.

So we stand here
On the edge of hell
in Harlem
And look out on the world
And wonder
What we’re gonna do
In the face of what
We remember.

And here you can find Langston Hughes read his own poemsI’ve Known Rivers and I too in his own voice. As well as, Good Morning, DaddyHarlem (a dream deferred), and more.