From poetry to playwright, Langston Hughes played an important role in American literature. Langston Hughes was undoubtedly one of the most important figures in twentieth-century black American writing (Morley). He had an artistic ability to use literature as a social platform. Langston Hughes’ work plays a vital role in literature all the same.
Hughes greatly contributed to the Harlem Renaissance, a movement that celebrated African American life and culture. Hughes wrote about Harlem more than any other poet of his generation (Morley). His creativity was influenced by living in Harlem, a primarily African American neighborhood in New York City. Many of his poems including “I, Too” and “The Weary Blues” emphasize the many struggles of the African American population. Taking on social and political roles with his writing, Hughes became a public figure (Morley). While his work gears toward an early Civil Rights Movement, it also benefits modern literature today.
Ultimately, Hughes’ poetry illustrates more than he displayed on the surface. His poetry usually requires one to read between the lines for more depth behind the writing. While Hughes wrote short poems, each poem told a major story. From following dreams to African American culture, his poems inspired people to use their own imaginations and creative minds to interpret their own meanings. Langston Hughes utilized his writing skills to produce literary work that entertains the reader and leaves them searching for more after one read.
In Langston Hughes’ poem, “Madam and the Phone Bill,” a lady by the name of Alberta K. Johnson sits in the kitchen while speaking to a telephone operator about her phone bill. Alberta, seemingly upset about the whole situation, goes more in depth with her personal life to the operator. The operator simply wants the bill paid, however; Alberta argues why she plans to not follow through with the payment. In Alberta’s eyes, her disloyal boyfriend holds the responsibility for the bill since he so mindlessly decided to call and tell her what she already knew. With all being said, Alberta still insists on not paying a dime for his careless acts.
As I listen to Alberta speaking of her entire personal life on the phone, I assume she is only conversing with a friend. That is until I hear her say “Kansas City,” complete opposite of a normal chat. She finally hangs up the phone and leaves the kitchen in pure silence. Attempting to break from the awkwardness I ask, “Who were you pouring your heart out to?” She simply replies in a dry tone, “Just an old friend of mine.” Of course I knew the truth, I just had to warm up to the question first. Knowing Alberta for years, she never brings up her boyfriend at random. “So why’d you mention Kansas City then? I know this is about him,” I responded with certainty. Quickly pausing in her tracks, she turns toward me and spills everything aloud, “It was a telephone operator requesting a payment. This disloyal man called me from Kansas City to tell me he loves me once again!” While this definitely shows me no surprise, since they go through the same thing almost daily.
I finally reveal to Alberta that she needs to leave this man for good. “You should pay the bill this last time and make sure to avoid any more of his calls,” I tell her in a slightly stern manner. Alberta understandably sighs and replies, “You’re right, after today I will let him out of my life. After all the fuss, Alberta officially leaves her boyfriend without any doubt left behind.
- Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. Langston Hughes. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2019. www.britannica.com/biography/Langston-Hughes.
- Hughes, Langston. Madam and the Phone Bill. The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/madam-and-phone-bill.
- Morley, Catherine. Modern American Literature. Edinburgh University Press, 2012. (Ch. 5 Langston Hughes.)