Langston Hughes (1902-1967) in my opinion is the Godfather of Urban Fiction. Hughes is my literary hero of sorts because he used his personal urban experiences as a platform for writing.
As an author of three books of urban fiction, I too used my urban experiences in writing them. Hughes wrote many poems that are comical. If someone was not raised in the ghetto, they wouldn't understand or they wouldn't think his poems are funny.
Instead of being swallowed by the depression of living in the ghetto, Hughes made it work for him. I'm pretty sure that the average black comedian can relate to Hughes because they joke about their upbringing in the 'hood.
I remember the episode on All In The Family when the two black men tried to rob the Bunker's house. They later joked to each other about who had it the roughest. Edith asked them how could they laugh at so much misery. One of them responded with "Practice lady. Practice."
Hughes has one poem titled The Ballad Of The Landlord. It says:
My roof has sprung a leak.
Don't you 'member I told you about it
Way last week?Landlord, landlord,
These steps is broken down.
When you come up yourself
It's a wonder you don't fall down.Ten Bucks you say I owe you?
Ten Bucks you say is due?
Well, that's Ten Bucks more'n I'l pay you
Till you fix this house up new.What? You gonna get eviction orders?
You gonna cut off my heat?
You gonna take my furniture and
Throw it in the street?
Um-huh! You talking high and mighty.
Talk on-till you get through.
You ain't gonna be able to say a word
If I land my fist on you.
Come and get this man!
He's trying to ruin the government
And overturn the land!
Headlines in press:
MAN THREATENS LANDLORD
TENANT HELD NO BAIL
JUDGE GIVES NEGRO 90 DAYS IN COUNTY JAIL!
From THE LANGSTON HUGHES READER, p. 101, © 195
I recited this poem in speech class years ago and I absolutely love it because I can totally picture the scene. The reason why Hughes was so great is because his descriptions of his characters and their situations becomes totally vivid.
Blacks who live in poverty learn to deal with it. Our joking and jesting among each other in public is laughter to someone else because of the antics involved. Little do people know how depressing it is to have low income or no income at all. Add that to everyone in the neighborhood and you have one big mess.
Langston Hughes is not the only black author and poet who wrote about the urban experience. However, he paved the way for us blacks to make the best out of a bad situation.
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