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Unit Four. Week Nine, 8/1. 400 Souls: Reflecting on a Community History of African America.

Updated: Aug 5, 2021

Teach Out Gathering Time

Sunday, August 1. 5:00-7:00pm PST

Meeting ID: 984 4028 7294

400 souls: reflecting on a community history of african america

week nine


we convene in honor of Ida B. Wells

James Mercer Langston Hughes was born in 1902, in Joplin, Missouri. he was raised by his grandmother until he was thirteen, when he moved to Lincoln, Illinois, to live with his mother and her husband, before the family eventually settled in Cleveland, Ohio. it was in Lincoln that Hughes began writing poetry. after graduating from high school, he spent a year in Mexico followed by a year at Columbia University in New York City. during this time, he worked as an assistant cook, launderer, and busboy. he also travelled to Africa and Europe working as a seaman.

in November 1924, he moved to Washington, DC. Hughes's first book of poetry, The Weary Blues, was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1926. he finished his college education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania three years later. in 1930 his first novel, Not Without Laughter, won the Harmon gold medal for literature.

Hughes, who claimed Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Carl Sandburg, and Walt Whitman as his primary influences, is particularly known for his portrayals of Black life in America from the 1920s through the 1960s. he wrote novels, short stories, plays, and poetry, and is also known for his engagement with the world of jazz and the influence it had on his work. his life and work were enormously important in shaping the artistic contributions of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. unlike other notable Black artists of the period, Hughes refused to differentiate between his personal experience and the common experience of Black America.

the critic Donald B. Gibson noted in the introduction to Modern Black Poets: A Collection of Critical Essays (Prentice Hall, 1973) that Hughes “differed from most of his predecessors among black poets… in that he addressed his poetry to the people, specifically to black people. During the twenties when most American poets were turning inward...Hughes was turning outward, using language and themes, attitudes and ideas familiar to anyone who had the ability simply to read... Until the time of his death, he spread his message humorously—though always seriously—to audiences throughout the country, having read his poetry to more people (possibly) than any other American poet.

in addition to leaving behind a large body of poetic work, Hughes wrote eleven plays and countless works of prose. he edited anthologies, wrote an acclaimed autobiography, and cowrote the play Mule Bone with Zora Neale Hurston.

Langston Hughes died of complications from prostate cancer on May 22, 1967, in New York City. in his memory, his residence at 20 East 127th Street in Harlem has been given landmark status by the New York City Preservation Commission, and East 127th Street has been renamed “Langston Hughes Place.”

we dedicate the study and gathering of this week's teach out to the work and memory of Langston Hughes. may he rest in power.

*much of the above biography credited to writers.


our week nine reading

four hundred souls: part eight

pg. 267-304


our weekly provocations

1. Discussion questions for Four Hundred Souls, Part Eight (below)

2. Black History in Two Minutes Or So - "The Harlem Renaissance" (click below to access)

3. Only known audio recording of Booker T. Washington's "Atlanta Exposition" speech, September 18, 1895 (click to access transcript and audio)



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