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We’re celebrating what would have been his 121st birthday!

He was born James Mercer Langston Hughes on February 1, 1902 in Joplin, Missouri. He began writing poetry as a young child and grew up to become one of the most prolific poets of all time. A luminary in the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes’ work shaped much of the 20th century and helped to amplify the Black arts movement and shift the narrative around Black life. He spent time traveling the globe, using poetry as a medium to raise Black consciousness and edify his people. His work remains light in a dark place and is an example of the sheer power of art to transform society, serving as the blueprint for generations of writers to come. In honor of Hughes’ life and legacy, here are 6 Langston Hughes poems you should read if you’re a young Black artist, courtesy of

I’ve known rivers:

I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.

I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.

I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.

I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen 

its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I’ve known rivers:

Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers. 

Life is a broken-winged bird

For when dreams go

Frozen with snow.

Well, son, I’ll tell you:

Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

It’s had tacks in it,

And boards torn up,

And places with no carpet on the floor—

I’se been a-climbin’ on,

And sometimes goin’ in the dark

Where there ain’t been no light.

So boy, don’t you turn back.

Don’t you set down on the steps

’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.

For I’se still goin’, honey,

I’se still climbin’,

And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

Po’ Boy Blues (1926)

Yes, I was a good boy,

But this world is weary

An’ de road is hard an’ long.

A gal I thought was kind.

A gal I thought was kind.

An’ almost lose ma mind.

Weary early in de morn.

Early, early in de morn.

I wish I’d never been born.

I am the darker brother.

They send me to eat in the kitchen

I’ll be at the table

Nobody’ll dare

“Eat in the kitchen,”

They’ll see how beautiful I am

And be ashamed—

What happens to a dream deferred?

      like a raisin in the sun?

      Or fester like a sore—

      And then run?

      Does it stink like rotten meat?

      Or crust and sugar over—

      like a syrupy sweet?

      Maybe it just sags

      like a heavy load.

      Or does it explode?

Happy Birthday Langston Hughes! 

Here are 6 Langston Hughes poems you should read if you’re a young Black artist. Photo Courtesy of Carl Van Vechten/ Carl Van Vechten Trust/ Beinecke Library/ Yale University

This content was originally published here.