The most recommended Langston Hughes books

Who picked these books? Meet our 15 experts.

15 authors created a book list connected to Langston Hughes, and here are their favorite Langston Hughes books.
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What type of Langston Hughes book?


Blues People

By Leroi Jones,

Book cover of Blues People

Dennis McNally Author Of On Highway 61: Music, Race, and the Evolution of Cultural Freedom

From the list on jazz and the story it tells about America.

Who am I?

I have a sophisticated education, including a Ph.D. in History from the University of Massachusetts. I have had a career, if that’s precisely the word, in the music business as the publicist for the Grateful Dead. I spent ten years researching what became On Highway 61. I have been a close observer of America’s racial politics at least since 1962, when the head of the Hollywood NAACP, James Tolbert, and his family, moved in next door to my family’s home in the white working-class neighborhood of Pacoima in the San Fernando Valley. Mr. Tolbert instructed me in music among other things, and I’ve been studying ever since.

Dennis' book list on jazz and the story it tells about America

Why did Dennis love this book?

I have gone back to Blues People for all three of my books. His insight into the blues, jazz, and the relationship of white people and Black music still resonates, and the book is now 60 years old. Things would get much weirder in his life personally and between the races socially in the years after, but this book is no-bullshit truth.

By Leroi Jones,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Blues People as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"A must for all who would more knowledgeably appreciate and better comprehend America's most popular music." — Langston Hughes

"The path the slave took to 'citizenship' is what I want to look at. And I make my analogy through the slave citizen's music—through the music that is most closely associated with him: blues and a later, but parallel development, jazz... [If] the Negro represents, or is symbolic of, something in and about the nature of American culture, this certainly should be revealed by his characteristic music."

So says Amiri Baraka (previously known as LeRoi Jones) in the Introduction to Blues…

The Undefeated

By Kwame Alexander, Kadir Nelson (illustrator),

Book cover of The Undefeated

Charlotte Watson Sherman Author Of Brown Sugar Babe

From the list on life-affirming books for Black children.

Who am I?

Several months before the Covid-19 pandemic upended the world as we knew it, my life was turned upside-down by reports of suicide rates and attempted suicides doubling for Black children. In fact, during late Fall 2019, Congress established an Emergency Task Force on Youth Suicide and Mental Health. I’d already been reading accounts of Black children ending their lives on social media, and as a writer, decided to leave a legacy of books that helped armor Black children with love as they navigated spaces that would not always welcome their brilliance and beauty. I wanted to help encourage them to embrace life’s joys and to love themselves, always.

Charlotte's book list on life-affirming books for Black children

Why did Charlotte love this book?

Kwame Alexander is a creative force of nature, an award-winning author of poetry and children’s fiction, such as Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets, Becoming Muhammad Ali, co-authored with James Patterson, and The Crossover, soon to be a Disney+ television series. In The Undefeated, Alexander displays masterful lyrical language skills, and by telling us what we are not, shows us what we are: resilient, strong, and brave. Read this book to Black children and bask in the love.

By Kwame Alexander, Kadir Nelson (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Undefeated as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Originally performed for ESPN's The Undefeated, this poem is a love letter to black life in the United States. It highlights the unspeakable trauma of slavery, the faith and fire of the civil rights movement, and the grit, passion, and perseverance of some of the world's greatest heroes. The text is also peppered with references to the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, and others, offering deeper insights into the accomplishments of the past, while bringing stark attention to the endurance and spirit of those surviving and thriving in the present.

Finding Langston

By Lesa Cline-Ransome,

Book cover of Finding Langston

Ellen Mulholland Author Of This Girl Climbs Trees

From the list on middle grade dealing with death, dying, and grief.

Who am I?

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with life and death. As a child, my own life was fairly mundane and even joyful. However, I went through loss like most. We lost two dogs when I was maybe seven or nine. Then my beagle Suzy, who we had the longest, was struck by a car on a rainy day. A few years later, my grandfather passed from cancer. Watching my mother grieve stuck with me. It shaped me—how I cared about life, how I longed to understand it. Once I decided to write stories for children, I knew it could be a safe place to explore my hidden feelings.

Ellen's book list on middle grade dealing with death, dying, and grief

Why did Ellen love this book?

This is a warm hug book. The kind that sneaks up on you when you’re reading words. Langston is a lovable main character. His story is rich with family, tradition, loss, and poetry. He is eleven when his mother dies, and his dad decides they must leave Alabama. So many changes for this boy as he is bullied and deals with segregation in 1940s Chicago. But he discovers the library that welcomes all. Such a sweet story and perfect for younger middle grade readers.

By Lesa Cline-Ransome,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Finding Langston as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book
Winner of the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction

When eleven-year-old Langston's father moves them from their home in Alabama to Chicago's Bronzeville district, it feels like he's giving up everything he loves.

It's 1946. Langston's mother has just died, and now they're leaving the rest of his family and friends. He misses everything--Grandma's Sunday suppers, the red dirt roads, and the magnolia trees his mother loved.

In the city, they live in a small apartment surrounded by noise and chaos. It doesn't feel like a new start, or a better life. At…

Nancy Cunard

By Anne Chisholm,

Book cover of Nancy Cunard

Anne De Courcy Author Of Magnificent Rebel: Nancy Cunard in Jazz Age Paris

From the list on the social history of the inter-war years.

Who am I?

Social history has always been my passion: unless you know how people thought, felt and lived, even down to how they dressed and ate, it is often impossible to understand why they acted as they did. And no period is as fascinating to me as the inter-war years; after WW1, the greatest conflict the world had ever seen, the upcoming generations determined to break barriers, discard the last vestiges of what they saw as hidebound custom, to invent new, freer ways of writing, painting, dancing - and to have fun. And for most of this post-war generation, there was nowhere like Paris.

Anne's book list on the social history of the inter-war years

Why did Anne love this book?

This elegantly written biography helped me to know my subject.

It was especially vivid on what it was like to be the child of an Edwardian hostess, the minimal effect of WW1 on the day-to-day life of Great Britain and the effect of this on later life. It is a model of what a biography should be: thoughtful, clear, interesting, and perceptive.

By Anne Chisholm,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Nancy Cunard as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From Wikipedia: Nancy Clara Cunard (10 March 1896 – 17 March 1965) was a writer, heiress and political activist. She was born into the British upper class but strongly rejected her family's values, devoting much of her life to fighting racism and fascism. She became a muse to some of the 20th century's most distinguished writers and artists, including Wyndham Lewis, Aldous Huxley, Tristan Tzara, Ezra Pound and Louis Aragon, who were among her lovers, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Constantin Brâncuşi, Langston Hughes, Man Ray, and William Carlos Williams. MI5 documents reveal that she was involved with Indian socialist leader…

I Wonder as I Wander

By Langston Hughes,

Book cover of I Wonder as I Wander: An Autobiographical Journey

Lawrence Goldstone Author Of On Account of Race: The Supreme Court, White Supremacy, and the Ravaging of African American Voting Rights

From the list on for white people to learn about Black people.

Who am I?

When I was eight, my mother was called in to see the principal…yet again. He pulled me out of class, stood me in the hall for maximum intimidation value, then said to my mom, “Your son has no respect for authority.” Mom asked, “What about that, Larry?” My reply—and this is totally true—was, “He doesn’t mean respect. He means courtesy. You can demand courtesy, but you have to earn respect.” Those sentiments have not changed, which is why, I suppose, I have an extremely critical eye for history, especially American history, that deifies the winners. I don’t think we make ourselves stronger as a nation by pretending our leaders were somehow not as human in their flaws as the rest of us.  I prefer to look under what is called “conventional wisdom,” because that’s where the real story often lies.

Lawrence's book list on for white people to learn about Black people

Why did Lawrence love this book?

Hughes, whose poetry is standard fare in many American high schools, led an amazing, globetrotting life in the 1930s, which he details with a poet’s eye in this fascinating memoir.  Whether in Stalinist Russia with the famed novelist Arthur Koestler or in Madrid during the height of the Spanish Civil War, Hughes recounts his wanderings part wide-eyed, part coldly rational, but always with wit and panache. What makes this book so compelling is the casual acceptance of Hughes across Europe and West Asia, where the color of his skin rarely makes the slightest difference to those he encounters. Equally, Hughes recounts his adventures with minimal reference to race, although the lack of bigotry he encounters abroad always lurks in the background. 

I Wonder as I Wander is the sort of book that becomes a page-turner without trying—deceptively gentle, deeply penetrating, and fun.

By Langston Hughes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked I Wonder as I Wander as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In I Wonder as I Wander, Langston Hughes vividly recalls the most dramatic and intimate moments of his life in the turbulent 1930s.

His wanderlust leads him to Cuba, Haiti, Russia, Soviet Central Asia, Japan, Spain (during its Civil War), through dictatorships, wars, revolutions. He meets and brings to life the famous and the humble, from Arthur Koestler to Emma, the Black Mammy of Moscow. It is the continuously amusing, wise revelation of an American writer journeying around the often strange and always exciting world he loves.

How to Read a Book

By Kwame Alexander, Melissa Sweet (illustrator),

Book cover of How to Read a Book

Caroline McAlister Author Of John Ronald's Dragons: The Story of J. R. R. Tolkien

From the list on writers and the strange and magical things that inspired them.

Who am I?

I am an English teacher who is the child of an English teacher. I majored in comparative literature at college and went on to earn a PhD in English Literature. But the experience of reading picture books to my own children was more important to me than any fancy degree. I fell in love with books all over again, with the shape and feel of them, with the fonts, with the way the words sounded out loud, with the way the images extended and commented on the story. “Ah!” I thought, “I should write my own picture book.” So began a long and not so simple journey. I hope my own books foster a love of words, art, and creativity in both adult and child readers.

Caroline's book list on writers and the strange and magical things that inspired them

Why did Caroline love this book?

This is not literally a biography of a writer, but an illustrated poem that immerses the reader in the experience of reading. All writers are readers first, and all writers need readers, so that is why I am including it in my list. When I looked at reviews online, many of them complained that the artwork and the script made the book hard to read. I could not disagree more. The writing and the art literally become one in this brilliant mesmerizing book.  I love that Alexander references Langston Hughes reading on a stoop at the beginning. Then he proceeds to the central simile: 

Once you’re comfy,

Peel its gentle skin,

Like you would

A clementine

The color of


Melissa Sweet’s orange, yellow, and pink collage literally rises from the page. This is a book to savor slowly, to read again, and again, and again.

By Kwame Alexander, Melissa Sweet (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How to Read a Book as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A stunning new picture book from Newbery Medalist Kwame Alexander and Caldecott Honoree Melissa Sweet! This New York Times bestselling duo has teamed up for the first time to bring you How to Read a Book, a poetic and beautiful journey about the experience of reading.

Find a tree-a

black tupelo or

dawn redwood will do-and

plant yourself.

(It's okay if you prefer a stoop, like Langston Hughes.)

With these words, an adventure begins. Kwame Alexander's evocative poetry and Melissa Sweet's lush artwork come together to take readers on a sensory journey between the pages of a book.

How to…

Let America Be America Again

By Langston Hughes, Christopher C. De Santis (editor),

Book cover of Let America Be America Again: Conversations with Langston Hughes

W. Jason Miller Author Of Langston Hughes

From W.'s 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Professor Archival sleuth Public scholar

W.'s 3 favorite reads in 2023

Why did W. love this book?

A vibrant Hughes is presented here much as he often appeared in life: raising a glass of gin to salute dear friends.

With a remarkable cast of characters that includes James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, and Zora Neale Hurston, these long-forgotten interviews and speeches of poet Langston Hughes bring us face-to-face with his extraordinary literary (and musical) contemporaries. 

Mischievous, controversial, and indefatigably affable, few literary figures ever combined such a diverse and rich inner spirit— all while writing some of the world’s most iconic poems.              

By Langston Hughes, Christopher C. De Santis (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Let America Be America Again as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A collection of interviews, speeches, and essays by Langston Hughes.

Let America Be America Again: Conversations with Langston Hughes is a record of a remarkable man talking. In texts ranging from early interviews in the 1920s, when he was a busboy and scribbling out poems on hotel napkins, to major speeches, such as his keynote address at the First World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar, Senegal, in 1966, Hughes's words further amplify the international reputation he established over the course of five decades through more widely-published and
well-known poems, stories, novels, and plays.

In these interviews, speeches, and conversational…

James Baldwin

By Toni Morrison, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin

Book cover of James Baldwin: Collected Essays

Kara Cooney Author Of When Women Ruled the World: Six Queens of Egypt

From the list on power and the powerless.

Who am I?

I'm a specialist of ancient Egyptian social history, who against the better judgment of (practically all) her colleagues uses the ancient past to make the present understandable. If we don’t fetishize the ancient Egyptians as separate and magical, they have something to teach us, whispering to us from the past through papyri, temples, and archaeological sites. After all, Egyptian history is 3000 years plus in its time span, an astounding data set of a people using same approximate language, government system, religion, and culture. Some of us look hungrily to replicate that kind of lasting and divine power. I am obsessed with power—how it works, why we are helpless to it, and who gets exploited by it. The ancient Egyptian kings effectively packaged their power not only as necessary, but as moral and good, ancient marketing that continues to work on our minds.

Kara's book list on power and the powerless

Why did Kara love this book?

I am recommending this book because one can’t understand power without being beholden to it systemically and repeatedly, all the while dissecting power’s discontents. Baldwin’s words may seem to strike only to America’s core, but every marginalized person will find truth in them. As an Egyptologist, I rely on Baldwin to tell me what oppressed people in an authoritarian regime thought but could not commit to paper.

By Toni Morrison, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin

Why should I read it?

1 author picked James Baldwin as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

James Baldwin was a uniquely prophetic voice in American letters. His brilliant and provocative essays made him the literary voice of the Civil Rights Era, and they continue to speak with powerful urgency to us today, whether in the swirling debate over the Black Lives Matter movement or in the words of Raoul Peck's documentary "I Am Not Your Negro." Edited by Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, the Library of America's Collected Essays is the most comprehensive gathering of Baldwin's nonfiction ever published.

With burning passion and jabbing, epigrammatic wit, Baldwin fearlessly articulated issues of race and democracy and American identity…

The Black Interior

By Elizabeth Alexander,

Book cover of The Black Interior: Essays

Simone C. Drake Author Of Are You Entertained?: Black Popular Culture in the Twenty-First Century

From the list on Black popular culture.

Who am I?

I am a scholar of African Diaspora cultural studies, which means I spend a lot of time analyzing texts in various forms: books, art, film, music, and even laws and legal documents. The cultural texts I study were produced by people. I am passionate about Black popular culture, because it dismantles some of the enduring divisions between academic institutions and the people who live beyond their walls. It is a field of study that is always in flux, especially now with twenty-first-century advances that position popular culture as almost always at our fingertips.

Simone's book list on Black popular culture

Why did Simone love this book?

This book focuses mostly on literary criticism, but I chose it because of the theoretical work Alexander does in defining “the black interior.” The concept of the black interior unpacks the ways in which Black bodies and blackness have been devalued and dehumanized. This book and its theoretical underpinnings insist upon recoupling the “human” with blackness. I love how the book challenges viewing and spectatorship and calls upon readers to recognize black life and creativity beyond stereotypes that guide the limited imaginations of the dominant culture that relentlessly misrepresents and maligns blackness.

By Elizabeth Alexander,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Black Interior as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Legendary poet Elizabeth Alexander turns her finely-honed sensibilities to the subject of blackness and the interior world of the modern African-American. Intelligent, perceptive and keenly observed, this collection of essays traces a thoughtful path through music, poetry and the outstanding social issues of the last 200 years to synthesise a remarkable picture of the modern African-American psyche. From Langston Hughes to the Rodney King video, Alexander leads her reader effortlessly over the complex terrain of art and politics to a new vision of the black interior.

The Ways of White Folks

By Langston Hughes,

Book cover of The Ways of White Folks

Brianne Moore Author Of A Bright Young Thing

From the list on 1930s books featuring women who did it their way.

Who am I?

All of my books and stories have at least one thing in common: strong women. I’ve always been fascinated by women who are fighters and who aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo. Astra, the main character in A Bright Young Thing, is definitely not alone in pushing back against society’s expectations: the women in these books (and many in real life in the 1930s) also find the strength to say no, to stand in their power, and truly live life their way.

Brianne's book list on 1930s books featuring women who did it their way

Why did Brianne love this book?

The most famous short story in this collection is about Cora, whose whole life is spent in drudgery first to her own family, and then to the locally prominent Studevants. In her own life, Cora is somewhat unconventional—she feels no shame for having an illegitimate child at a time when that was frowned upon, to say the least—but she’s quietly obedient to her difficult employers. Until, that is, one of them causes a tragedy, and Cora feels compelled to speak up very publicly. And, oh, when she does it is immensely satisfying! (TW: racially charged language and abortion)

By Langston Hughes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Ways of White Folks as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


A black maid forms a close bond with the daughter of the cruel white couple for whom she works. Two rich, white artists hire a black model to pose as a slave. A white-passing boy ignores his mother when they cross each other on the street.

Written with sardonic wit and a keen eye for the absurdly unjust, these fourteen stories about racial tensions are as relevant today as the day they were penned, and linger in the mind long after the…

Langston's Train Ride

By Robert Burleigh, Leonard Jenkins (illustrator),

Book cover of Langston's Train Ride

Lisa Rogers Author Of 16 Words: William Carlos Williams and the Red Wheelbarrow

From the list on biographies to inspire young poets.

Who am I?

I love sharing poetry with children! I became inspired to write poetic picture books during my 20-year career as an elementary school librarian. In class, we often read aloud, discussed, and performed poems. My students considered word choices, identified alliteration, metaphor, and simile, and developed a sophisticated vocabulary of “beautiful” words. They delighted in using their senses to write about special places and moments and did research to create and illustrate fact-based poems about people and animals. In exploring poetry and biographies of poets, students found inspiration and used their authentic voices to craft their own funny, engaging, and thoughtful poetry.

Lisa's book list on biographies to inspire young poets

Why did Lisa love this book?

If you doubt poetry’s power to sweep you up and bring you to tears, you must read Burleigh’s deep dive into Langston Hughes’ inspiration for his famous poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”. You’ll take this story to heart and keep it there. I got the chills from the author’s note, which explains that Burleigh’s goal was to explore “the moment when Langston Hughes came to believe in himself as a writer” – and have that moment inspire others. In vibrant, poetic prose perfect for reading aloud, Burleigh begins with Hughes celebrating his first book.

In a flashback, Hughes, on a train, muses over his personal history. As the train crosses the Mississippi, he reaches further back into his people’s history, until he entwines those strands into one gorgeous, resonant work of art.

By Robert Burleigh, Leonard Jenkins (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Langston's Train Ride as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Robert Burleigh's inspiring text captures the magical moment when Langston Hughes came to believe in himself as a writer, as he first wrote "The Negro Speaks of Rivers."

Clackety clack clack clack...
Can you hear the rhythm of the train?
Langston Hughes did. Traveling to see his father in 1920, as he listened to the sounds of the train -- metal on metal, wheels on rails -- Hughes's imagination took flight. On that ride, he was inspired to write his first famous poem, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers."
This picture book tells the story of Langston Hughes's rise to accomplishing…

Book cover of African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle & Song: A Library of America Anthology

Hollis Robbins Author Of Forms of Contention: Influence and the African American Sonnet Tradition

From the list on Black poetry.

Who am I?

I have been writing and teaching about African American poetry and poetics for more than two decades. My passion began when I kept discovering long-lost poems that were published once, in Black newspapers, and then forgotten. I wondered why I had never learned about Gwendolyn Brooks in school, though I’d read about e.e. cummings and Robert Frost. Once I stumbled on the fact that Claude McKay discovered cummings, I realized how much the questions of influence and power aren’t really central topics in thinking about the genealogy of Black poets and their influence on each other and on poetry in general.

Hollis' book list on Black poetry

Why did Hollis love this book?

Kevin Young’s anthology is the latest in a long line of Black poetry anthologies; the first was James Weldon Johnson’s Book of American Negro Poetry (1922), which Young duly acknowledges. Most of Young’s choices I agree with; some I don’t (at least one of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s great sonnets should have been included); but in the main it is a terrific anthology of poets historical up to the present day. I counted almost 40 sonnets among the poems included. Readers who are interested in the dates the poems were published can turn to an extensive set of notes in the back, which are really helpful.

By Kevin Young,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked African American Poetry as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A literary landmark: the biggest, most ambitious anthology of Black poetry ever published, gathering 250 poets from the colonial period to the present

Across a turbulent history, from such vital centers as Harlem, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and the Bay Area, Black poets created a rich and multifaceted tradition that has been both a reckoning with American realities and an imaginative response to them. Capturing the power and beauty of this diverse tradition in a single indispensable volume, African American Poetry reveals as never before its centrality and its challenge to American poetry and culture.

One of the great…

Wrapped in Rainbows

By Valerie Boyd,

Book cover of Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston

Katherine Giuffre Author Of Outrage: The Arts and the Creation of Modernity

From the list on maverick creativity.

Who am I?

I’ve spent my career as a sociologist studying how creative people work, what social settings are most conducive to creativity, and how to foster creativity for everyone in our daily lives. I know that creativity is often not easy and can even be met with hostility much more frequently than we might think. Creativity is, after all, a type of deviance and creative people can face real obstacles in finding and following their vision. But a richer understanding of how and why creativity happens – and of its obstacles – can be a tool for making a more vibrant, creative, inclusive, and just world.

Katherine's book list on maverick creativity

Why did Katherine love this book?

On top of having written one of the most profound novels of the 20th century, Zora Neale Hurston was a fierce and fearless proponent of authenticity in literature and art – and she paid the price for that.

Boyd’s biography of her is the best, delving into this complex woman who was both deeply of her time and way ahead of it. Boyd quotes Hurston in one of my all-time favorite lines by a writer responding to a demeaning critic: “I will send my toe-nails to debate him…” An inspiration for all creative people facing rejection for being true to themselves!

By Valerie Boyd,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Wrapped in Rainbows as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From critically acclaimed journalist Valerie Boyd comes an eloquent profile of one of the most intriguing cultural figures of the twentieth century—Zora Neale Hurston.

A woman of enormous talent and remarkable drive, Zora Neale Hurston published seven books, many short stories, and several articles and plays over a career that spanned more than thirty years. Today, nearly every black woman writer of significance—including Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker—acknowledges Hurston as a literary foremother, and her 1937 masterpiece Their Eyes Were Watching God has become a crucial part of the modern literary canon.

Wrapped in Rainbows, the first biography…