One of the most recognizable names in African American letters, the Missouri-born Langston Hughes (1902-1967) wrote prolifically into the 1960s but is virtually synonymous with the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, the era, he quipped, “when the Negro was in vogue.” A proudly professional author, Hughes worked in practically every literary genre, from novels to essays, autobiographies to children’s books, comic and agitprop dramas to not-so-simple stories. His reputation rests largely on his poetry, however, distinguished by its agile adaptation of blues and jazz stances and rhythms. Modern black verse is almost impossible to imagine without the populist modernism of Hughes’s The Weary Blues (1926), Fine Clothes to the Jew (1927), and Montage of a Dream Deferred (1951). Hughes enthusiastically visited the Soviet Union, and was made to pay dearly for his Depression-era support of Communist causes during the Cold War, but seems never to have joined the Communist Party. The FBI’s file-keepers nonetheless compiled over 550 pages on his life and works, impressed in particular by his claim that “Negroes are growing in international consciousness.” J. Edgar Hoover styled himself as a Hughes expert in his publication “Secularism—Breeder of Crime,” which includes an unfriendly interpretation of Hughes’s controversial 1932 poem “Goodbye, Christ” (“Listen, Christ, / You did alright in your day, / I reckon…”).
FBI documents studying Langston Hughes.
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