By Teachers, For Teachers
Hughes was an innovative jazz poet, playwright, and prose stylist who was an integral part of the Harlem Renaissance. But his work, like the Harlem Renaissance as a whole, wasn’t just about the flowering of African-American art—it was deeply political, concerned with racial equality and social justice. His work focused on the lives and struggles of the lower classes of African-American society, as well as celebrating their culture and taking pride in their heritage.
In honor of Langston Hughes, we’re presenting seven of our favorite quotes from his poems and essays for you to display, and a sample discussion question for each. We hope they’ll get your classes thinking about Hughes’s work and the historical context in which it was written.
Sample discussion question: Do you find Hughes's arguments against slow, incremental action convincing? Why or why not?
Sample discussion question: What kinds of attitudes do you think might prompt the poet to insist "I, too, am America"? What does he mean?
Sample discussion question: How did American society in 1932 create "false shame" in African-American children? Do you think this still occurs today?
Sample discussion question: Do you think Hughes means that humor is a comfort, or that it is bitter? Or some combination of the two? Explain.
Sample discussion question: Word choice is one of the most important aspects of poetry. Why do you think Hughes chose the word "deferred" instead of a word like "ended" or "abandoned"?
Sample discussion question: Do you think that writers and artists have a responsibility to work toward a better society?
Sample discussion question: Why do you think Hughes connects being an African American to the rivers mentioned in the poem? How do you think the narrator feels about the rivers?
Image credit: Carl Can Vechten Photographs, courtesy of the Library of Congress