Winning Essay by Kristin L. from Tennessee
      The literary world has been blessed by the input of many competent writers, and the words of those men and women have disclosed hidden truths of past and present societies. One revolutionary writer named Langston Hughes used his jazzy, rhythmic style and personal afflictions to educate Americans on racial injustice. His controversial messages were hard-hitting to some readers, but critics saw them as unfavorable and nonsensical. Despite the harsh criticism he received, his words were politicized, working as the backbone of the Harlem Renaissance. His celebration of black culture, strive for artistic innovation, and aversion to inequality defined an era, and his ideas serve as enlightenment for many, such as I,  today. Hughes’ brave messages have influenced the way I write, carry myself, and act towards others significantly.
      Hughes’ candid voice painted a vivid image of the hardships facing his race in readers' heads, which ultimately led to both praise and protest. Racial tensions were at an alarming, all-time high, so many African American authors wrote little about their culture, for they feared whites would view them unfavorably and, therefore, only add more fuel to ever-present prejudices. Langston Hughes, however, refused to conceal truths about his life. Both his poetry and prose revealed the heartache he suffered due to segregation and bigotry, and his works advocated for inclusivity and diversity. While many were pleased by his activism, others were appalled by the exposure to black life. Certain members of the black press found his poems troublesome, but their criticism did not quieten his voice; instead, his messages grew louder, more hopeful, more truthful, and more inspiring. He littered themes of hope, self-love, and progress throughout his works, which gave those pieces timelessness and never-ending relativity.
      Langston Hughes' works have revealed to me and the rest of the country a piece of American history with effects that have not yet been eradicated. I am simultaneously challenged and inspired by his daring subject matter, and as an aspiring writer, I wish, like him, to not be silenced by the opinions of others. He has taught me not to refrain from discussing subjects that may make others uncomfortable, but instead to unapologetically disclose vital truths about society. Poems such as “I, Too” and “Let America Be America Again” constantly ring through my mind during trying times, acting as both illumination and influence. Those masterpieces have altered my own methods of writing by coercing me to explore paramount matters such as inequality, self-appreciation, and celebration of culture. His words have given me a voice, and that voice was given a purpose: to acknowledge adversity, exude candor, and settle for nothing less than justice.

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