Inspiring people: Don Shirley

He was born on February 1, 1902, the son of James Nathaniel Hughes and Carrie Langston Hughes. His father abandoned his wife and went to Cuba and then to Mexico due to the prevailing racism in the United States. The legends that his grandmother told had a great impact on him. Through them he discovered the African American oral tradition that made him proud of his race. He spent most of his childhood in Lawrence, Kansas, and after his grandmother died he lived with family friends, James and Mary Reed, for two years. It can be seen that his childhood was not entirely happy, but this instability greatly influenced the creation of the poet he became.

While in elementary school in Illinois, he was named a class poet, because as he later recounts, there was a stereotype in America that all African Americans were born with a great sense of rhythm. I was a victim of the stereotype; There were only two black boys in the class, and the English teacher was always stressing the importance of rhythm in poetry. Well, everyone knows (except us) that all blacks have a great sense of rhythm, so they made me a class poet. While still in high school in Ohio, he began writing for the school newspaper, edited the yearbook, and began writing his early stories, poetry, and plays. An example of this is his first poetry incorporating jazz, When Sue Wears Red or The Negro Speaks of Rivers, one of his best-known poems. It was around this time that he discovered his love for letters and discovered the authors who would most influence his writing: Paul Laurence Dunbar and Carl Sandburg. In 1919 Hughes lived for a time with his father in Mexico, but the relationship between them was so traumatic that Hughes contemplated suicide at least once. However, when he finished high school, he returned to Mexico trying to get his father to finance his studies at the University of Colombia. Hughes tells in The Big Sea how, while traveling to Mexico, he used to think about his father and the strange dislike he had towards his own people. He couldn’t understand it, because he was African American, and he really liked African Americans. Initially, his father expected Langston to go to college to study engineering, but not in the United States. In these terms, he was willing to finance the studies of his son, since he did not approve of his desire to be a writer. Eventually, Hughes and his father reached an agreement: Langston would study engineering, but in Colombia.

Although Langston Hughes rose to fame as a Harlem Renaissance poet, the breadth of his work should not be restricted to this period or genre, even though there is no doubt about the importance of shaping it. In addition to being a poet, he was a novelist, columnist, playwright, and essayist, and although his subject matter is heavily influenced by Harlem, the experience of his travels is also one of the sources of his style.
One of the most relevant characteristics of the Harlem Renaissance is the imitation of jazz sounds and improvisations in Jazz poetry, such as syncopated rhythms. The pioneers in adapting jazz rhythms and choruses to poetry were Carl Dunbar and Langston Hughes, both heavily involved in spreading racial pride and preserving the African-American tradition. They began to study how to add rhythms from jazz, blues, and other types of African American music, such as the spiritual song, to poetry. They sought with this to give a distinctive shape to their poetry, composing poems such as Weary Man Blues (The Blues of the Tired Man), which adapt rhythm, terminology and musical themes. Jazz poetry resurfaces two decades later with the beat generation, and contemporaneously in rap music, which also makes use of these syncopated rhythms.

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