Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes sharp humor, evocation of a vanished world, improvisational language, and unflinching portrayal of community relationships were key characteristics that made them key figures in the Harlem Renaissance, but their approaches and styles are radically different.
The Harlem Renaissance also known as the New Negro Movement is unusual among literary and artistic movements for its close relationship to civil rights and reform organizations. The African American movement peaked around the mid-1920s and during which African Americans took giant strides artistically, politically, and socially. During that time, neighborhoods bustled with African American-owned and run publishing houses and newspapers, music companies, playhouses, nightclubs, and cabarets. The literature, music, and fashion they created defined culture and it was “cool” for blacks and white alike, in America and around the world.
Langston and Hurston met at an awards ceremony given by the National Urban League’s magazine, Opportunity, at New York City’s Fifth Avenue Restaurant, where they received more honors than anyone else. Their greatest similarities present is they shared poverty, they shared a sense of mission and pride in their people. Both authors’ depiction of African-American life as a hardship and struggle were evident throughout their literary works. Their works contained strong messages of hope, and perseverance. They both wrote exclusively about the black experience, drawing heavily on folk tales and popular music, not just for the rhythm but for the content of their work.
Zora Neale Hurston was the folksy anthropologist, dramarist, novelist and playwright with a down-home style reflecting her Southern roots. Hurston’s writings reflected on her life experience, travels, and research. Her plays and books contained messages and analysis of race relations and the woman in America, not only were racial discrimination and prejudice still very much alive, perpetrating poverty and misery for blacks was prevalent as well. Zora refused to see the negative side of life in her community, instead she focused on the rich heritage of black culture.
In Their Eyes Were Watching God” and shorter works like ‘Sweat, revealed the truth about the black Southern experience in the deep south from a woman’s perspective.
Upon receiving a Guggenheim fellowship, Hurston traveled to Haiti and wrote what would become her most famous work: Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937). The novel tells the story of Janie Mae Crawford, who learns the value of self-reliance through multiple marriages and tragedy. Hurston was the most prominent female writer of the Harlem Renaissance. Their Eyes Were Watching God is still considered among the most influential works of African American and women’s literature today.
Langston Hughes by comparison was born in Missouri, the grand-son of a militant abolitionist and great-nephew of the first black man to hold a political office. He was an urbane poet, known for his insightful, colorful portrayals of black life in America from the twenties through the sixties.
Hughes wrote quite a bit. He recorded details, both mundane and sometimes movingly lyrical, in pocket notebooks now housed in the Langston Hughes Collection of Yale’s Beinecke Library. Hughes’ writing was turning outward, using language and themes, attitudes and ideas familiar to anyone who had the ability simply to read. He built his artistic project on identification with the Negro masses. His writings would show the world that the black culture was very proud, and had contributed to building and shaping this great country, it wasn’t just for the white society. In a poem called “I, Too” Hughes expresses his feelings as an African American, a brother, and someone who deserves to fit in society. He states “I, too sing America” (1039). Hughes saw himself as an individual who has a voice in America even though his skin is a little darker.
Langston Hughes famously announced in his manifesto “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” (1926) that black poets should create a distinctive “Negro” art, combating the “urge within the race toward whiteness.” His writing style seems to contain more critical political viewpoints about race relations than Hurston’s writing. Hughes was known for his affiliation with the Communist party, although he denied ever being a member of the party.
They both continued to write, with Hughes having the most success. Zora’s legacy endures through such efforts as the annual Zora! Festival in her old hometown of Eatonville, Florida. Langston Hughes’ memory endures as well, 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.’ Both authors were undoubtedly integral parts of the Harlem Renaissance, even though they shared different political views and writing styles. their depictions of African-American life in the United States will forever live on through…
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