Although Langston Hughes's literary reputation rests securely on his achievements as a poet, he also earned substantial recognition in the field of drama, "which, second only to poetry, was his favorite genre." 1 Hughes's first published play, The Gold Piece ( 1921), a short one-act work intended for a young adult audience, was followed almost a decade later by Mule Bone: A Comedy of Negro Life ( 1930), written in collaboration with Zora Neale Hurston and accompanied by a great deal of literary and personal controversy.
Hughes's more than forty works for the stage include folk comedies, tragic melodramas, historical plays, radical didactic works, satirical skits, operas and gospel song-plays. Hughes collaborated with a number of composers in his writing of librettos for operas and musicals. In many respects, Hughes was responsible for creating the gospel song-play form, which became increasingly popular in the 1970s and '80s. Hughes can be seen as one of the guiding figures of black theatre. 2
Hughes's plays of the 1930s show his interest in primarily two forms, the folk play and the protest drama. As a journeyman playwright, Hughes employed themes found in his 1920s poetry: African heritage, the legacy of slavery, African American rural and urban folk culture, and racial oppression signified by Jim Crow. For Hughes and other writers of the Harlem Renaissance, literary art served social ends by presenting images of African Americans that countered prevailing stereotypes.
Hughes began forming his dramatic concepts during the 1920s. His interest in black theatre can be found in his remarks in "The Negro Artistand the Racial Mountain,"