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Hughes, Langston (1902–1967)

Important poet and essayist in the Harlem Renaissance and first noted for his Weary Blues (1926), Hughes claimed that Whitman was "America's greatest poet" and that Leaves of Grass was "the greatest expression of the real meaning of democracy" (qtd. in Hutchinson 17). In the 4 July 1953 Chicago Defender, Hughes called Whitman the "Lincoln of our Letters" (qtd. in Hutchinson 17).

Hughes's interest in Whitman included compiling three anthologies of his verse and including Whitman poems in his anthology The Poetry of the Negro. Hughes wrote a 1954 poem ("Old Walt") for the centennial of Leaves of Grass and repeatedly encouraged black writers to read Whitman. On his first trip to Africa, Hughes threw all his books overboard save his copy of Leaves of Grass.

One reason for Hughes's enthusiasm was Whitman's feelings of sympathy and stated claims of equality with black slaves. In a 1946 essay Hughes expressed his belief that, since Whitman had played with slave children in his youth, his sympathy for black Americans was both realistic and lifelong. This sympathy was the first step in Whitman's becoming the spokesman for "suppressed classes" all over the world (Hughes 8). According to Arnold Rampersad, Hughes's "I, Too, Sing America" is Whitmanian while departing from Whitman's celebratory chant.


Hughes, Langston. "The Ceaseless Rings of Walt Whitman." I Hear the People Singing: Selected Poems of Walt Whitman. Ed. Hughes. New York: International Publishers, 1946. 7–10.

Hutchinson, George B. "Langston Hughes and the 'Other' Whitman." The Continuing Presence of Walt Whitman. Ed. Robert K. Martin. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 1992.16–27.

Rampersad, Arnold. The Life of Langston Hughes. 2 vols. New York: Oxford UP, 1986.

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