The appearance in 1926 of Langston Hughes's first volume of poems, The Weary Blues, announced the arrival on the American literary scene not only of a new voice and tone, but also of a new sort of voice. Close to the rhythms of Negro speech and song, these apparently artless verses -- which, of course, in reality proclaim a poet of sophistication and keen sensibility -- brought to many readers throughout the English-speaking world a new enjoyment of the multifarious voices of Harlem and the other places where Negroes live in large numbers. Since The Weary Blues, Langston Hughes -- to mention only his verse -- has published Fine Clothes to the Jew (1927), The Dream Keeper (1932), Shakespeare in Harlem (1942), Fields of Wonder (1947), One Way Ticket (1949), Montage of a Dream Deferred (1951), Ask Your Mama (1961), and The Panther and the Lash (1967).
Selected Poems of Langston Hughes represents Langston Hughes's own decisions as to which of his poems he most wanted to preserve and reprint. It contains not only selections from his published books (including private publication), but also poems that either had never been published before or had appeared only in periodicals.
Here are reflected the rhythms of jazz, the blues, and spirituals. Arna Bontemps has called Langston Hughes the "original jazz poet," and it is worth noting that Hughes in his last years often read his poetry to jazz accompaniment. But there is more in these poems than jazz, its rhythms and its significance. Here, too, are the travail, the joys and accomplishments, the wide-eyed wonder and bitter realizations of a transplanted race. Here, most important of all, are the affirmations and speech of a true poet. Primarily a lyricist, Langston Hughes learned how to speak with intensity of the things that mattered to him, the human factors that he understood and appreciated, whether in praise, in condemnation, or in sheer song.