Very few writers have had the influence or importance of Langston Hughes (1902?-1967). Best known for poems like “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” “I, Too,” and “The Weary Blues,” Hughes was also a widely read novelist, short story writer, and essayist – and his promotion of Black people and culture became central to the cultural explosion known as the Harlem Renaissance. In this episode, Jacke takes a look at Hughes’s early years, including his childhood, adolescence, and the poems Hughes wrote in his teens and twenties, as he forged his identity as a writer in the face of often intense criticism.
When Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965) was a child, her father made the Hansberry name famous by fighting for justice in a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court. By the time she was thirty, she herself was famous as the author of A Raisin in the Sun (1959), which tells the story of a black family attempting to purchase a home in a white neighborhood. In this episode, we look at the brief life and towering accomplishments of the woman who was the godmother to Nina Simone’s daughter and whose remarks to talented young African American students inspired Simone’s song “Young, Gifted and Black.”
They were collaborators, literary gadflies, and champions of the common people. They were the leading lights of the Harlem Renaissance. Their names were Zora Neale Hurston (1891 – 1960), the author of Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Langston Hughes (1902 – 1967), the author of “the Negro Speaks of Rivers” and “Let America Be America Again.” After meeting at a great gathering of black and white literati, the two writers traveled together through the rural South collecting folklore, collaborated on a play, wrote scores of loving letters to one another – and then had a bitter and passionate falling-out. On today’s episode, author Yuval Taylor joins Jacke to talk about his book, Zora and Langston: A Story of Friendship and Betrayal.
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Jean Toomer (1894-1967) was born into a prominent black family in Washington, D.C., but it wasn’t until he returned to the land of agrarian Georgia that he was inspired to write his masterpiece Cane (1923), a towering achievement that went on to influence the writers of the Harlem Renaissance and the Lost Generation. While Toomer’s own life presents a portrait of a man searching for an identity in a world of too-rigid categorization, the confident and self-assured Cane stands for a universality that defies categorization and bridges American divisions. In this episode, host Jacke Wilson reflects upon his own search for identity in small-town Wisconsin, which coincidentally was one of the places where Jean Toomer landed as well.
The Harlem Renaissance, the great flowering of African American arts and culture in the early twentieth century, is hard to define and easy to admire. Coupled with the Great Migration, in which hundreds of thousands of Southern black workers moved to the rapidly industrializing cities of the North, the Harlem Renaissance was a time of great artistic expression, as musicians, visual artists, and writers forged a new consciousness. The works they produced reflected a spirit of change, progress, and optimism – but underlying the excitement were also a sense of struggle; reflective themes of nostalgia, guilt, and regret; and a clear-eyed view of racial relations in American culture. Host Jacke Wilson looks at the works of Langston Hughes, Nella Larsen, Zora Neale Hurston, and the many others who turned Harlem into the center of a worldwide movement.
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