4 Things Langston Hughes Taught Me to Become a Better Writer

Langston Hughes is not just a poet. He was a writer of all forms that inspired many black people and writers when it comes to expressing their absolute truth.

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The roaring 20s had glitz and glamour where music and partying were the usual. However, artistry did not subside. The rise of the Harlem Renaissance era commenced as a pivotal moment for the Black/African American community. Black artists, intellectuals, writers, musicians, businessmen, publishers, and music producers came hand and hand in spreading the love of the arts. This was a time where Black artists reclaimed their identity and racial pride as a way to defy discrimination and racism. One important figure that is always worth mentioning is Langston Hughes.

Langston hughes 1920s protest in background

Today we will be focusing on Langston Hughes, as in most people’s eyes, he was the founding father of the Harlem Renaissance era for poets. A man of many talents, Hughes wrote a plethora of poems, novels, short stories, essays, and plays.

As a writer and a person from the black community, I have always admired Hughes’ work since I was in high school. With his hard work and determination, he has given people the inspiration of elevated writing. Here are four things I learned from Hughes.

1. Do not hold anything back no matter how ‘ugly’ it looks.

Within his writing, there was no filter involved. He showed the joys and hardships of what it’s like to be a black individual in the working class. As he famously wrote in his essay “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain”:

“We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, it doesn’t matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly too.”

The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain,” Langston Hughes

This was Hughes’ truth. No matter the cost, whether white people were uncomfortable, or whether black people tried to assimilate– It did not matter. Hooray if you are happy that you don’t have a problem with me, and too bad if you do because I’m not going anywhere. Hughes was unapologetically himself and actively chose to unleash honesty.

2. Only write when you feel something.

Writing should never feel like a chore. Especially when it’s conceived from creativity. It’s freedom of expression, and during this time, Hughes was fighting for more freedom, so to put pressure on his creative process would hinder the only thing he has control over– His love for writing.

But when you told me that I should have begun my writing again the week after I returned from Cuba — I must disagree with you. I must never write when I do not want to write. That is my last freedom and I must keep it for myself….

 The Letters of Langston Hughes
langston hughes writing


There are times in which I look down on myself for not writing enough– for taking too long of a break from my novel series. But sometimes, you need to step back and rest your hands. Creativity should not be measured, rather it should be celebrated when it comes out naturally because that’s when it’s the most authentic.

“You must write now, you must finish that poem tomorrow. You must begin to create on the first of the month.” Because then I could not have written, I could not have created anything. I could only have put down empty words at best …. The creative urge must come from within, always as you know dear G.

Letters of Langston Hughes

3. Haters are going to hate.

Not everyone from within the Black community agreed with Hughes’ approach. Some people thought Hughes wrote about Black life as ‘unattractive.’ Nevertheless, Hughes’ work was never stunted in growth as his lens of viewing the world as a black person.

As a poet, essayist, and novelist– Hughes was unapologetic for how he saw the world. There was no sugar in coating what a black person goes through throughout their life.

Mister Backlash, Mister Backlash,
Just who do you think I am?
You raise my taxes, freeze my wages,
Send my son to Vietnam
You give me second class houses,
Second class schools.
Do you think that colored folks
Are just second class fools? 

When I try to find a job
To earn a little cash,
All you got to offer
Is a white backlash. 

But the world is big,
Big and bright and round–
And it’s full of folks like me who are
Black, Yellow, Beige, and Brown. 

Mister Backlash, Mister Backlash
What do you think I got to lose?
I’m gonna leave you, Mister Backlash,
Singing your mean old backlash blues. 

You’re the one
Will have the blues.
Not me–
Wait and see!

The Backlash Blues” by Langston Hughes

4. Write in all forms and genres.

As stated previously, Langston wrote in different forms. Poetry, Short Stories, Novels, Essays, Playwriting, Autobiographical, Journalistic Prose, Song Lyrics, and even History was his forte. What could this man not do?! Hughes was the first person to publish a comprehensive history of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) which was entitled “Fight for Freedom: The Story of the NAACP.’”

I started writing creatively at the age of sixteen, and I liked writing romantic stories. As I grew as a writer, I realized there should never be a limitation on my power. Hughes solidifies my claims because of his heavy discography. I’ve ventured into short stories, poetry, article content, entertainment, news reporting, and movie reviews. More importantly, it’s a great practice to write in different genres, so I like to step out of my comfort spot of romance and go into the polar opposite of horror or thriller. The creative world is endless, and so are my abilities.

As I continue my journey of writing in prose, I will look to powerful voices to fuel my creativity. Langston Hughes will be front center as he was a black man who did not shy away through his work. He spoke his truth, and I will cherish it for the rest of my life.

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