Langston Hughes (1902-67) and Nicolás Guillén (1902-89)
by Tomás Gayton


Langston Hughes and Nicolás Guillén were born in 1902 just as the United States military occupation of Cuba after the Spanish American War ended.

Nicolás attended Law School in Havana before giving up his course of study for a writing career just as Hughes turned his back on Columbia University for the same reason.

Hughes and Guillén came from families committed to social change. Guillén’s father had been a nationalist political leader and newspaper editor.

Hughes grandmother’s first husband died with John Brown at Harper’s Ferry, having already served with his wife as a conductor on the Underground Railroad, and his great-uncle was an outstanding abolitionist, legislator and academic.

Both men were of mixed race but identified with their African ancestry and extolled their blackness. In Guillén’s March 2, 1930 interview of Hughes for an article in El Diario de la Marina Conversación con Langston Hughes Hughes said, “I live among my people; I love them; the blows they get hurt me to the core and I sing their sorrows, I express their sadness, I put their anxieties to flight. And I do all this the people’s way, with the same simplicity with which the people do it… I should like to be black. Really black. Truly black!”

Guillén described himself in his essay El camino de Harlem (The Road From Harlem) a year earlier as “a light-skinned black with ‘good’ hair.”

Both writers made the struggle for social justice for Negroes and the oppressed their guiding principle in life and the inspiration for their poetry.

In the 1920’s Hughes and Mexican poet-Carlos Pellicer, were members of a tiny international advance guard of literary progressives that would eventually include Pablo Neruda of Chile, Jorge Luis Borges of Argentina, Leopold Sedes Senghor of Senegal, Jaques Roumain of Haiti, Aimé Cesaire of Martinique and Nicolás Guillén of Cuba.

Langston made his second visit to Cuba in 1930. (His first brief visit was as a young seaman.) He was seeking (at the behest of a rich patron) a partner to write an opera rooted in Cuban exotic primitivism. He never found his partner, but he did find friends like Fernández de Castro, editor of El Diario de la Marina who introduced him to Nicolás Guillén, who was searching for his authentic voice and later became the twentieth century’s most important Cuban poet. Langston had attained recognition in American literary circles with the publication of his poetry collections The Weary Blues (1926) and Fine Clothes to the Jew (1927), whereas Guillén had published only individual poems in Cuban literary journals.

Guillén had published his sonnets Al Margen De Mis Libros De Estudios in 1922, an apologia for leaving Law School. In 1928 he began work with Gustavo Urrutia who edited the Special Negro Page, Ideales de una Raza, of El Diario de la Marina. This earned Guillén a reputation as a creative opponent to the dictator Gerard Machado.

By the time Langston Met Nicolás in Havana in 1930, according to his biographer, Arnold Rampersad in The Life of Langston Hughes, Vol. 1 (1902-1941), “Hughes was essentially past major influence as a poet, not so Guillén, who was himself thinking of Langston Hughes’ work and its fearless racial aesthetic.”

Langston was modest and unassuming but he personified the Harlem Renaissance, of which his poetry was quintessential. Langston was a hero to many young Caribbean blacks including Nicolás.

Hughes had one crucial recommendation for Guillén – that he should make the rhythm of the Afro-Cuban Son, the authentic music of the black masses, central to his poetry, as Hughes himself had done with Blues and Jazz.

Although Guillén had previously shown a strong sense of outrage against racism and economic imperialism, he had not yet done so in language inspired by native, Afro-Cuban speech and dance. He had been more concerned with protesting racism than with offering the power and beauty of Cuban blackness.

El ensayo completo aparece en formato .pdf aqui


Volver al Indice

Get Adobe Reader.

Free software to view and print Adobe PDF files


Adobe, the Adobe logo, and Reader are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Adobe Systems Incorporated in
the United States and/or other countries. click and Search for

AfroCuban Culture



Subscribe to AfroCuba
Powered by



Pagina principal Inicio de pagina