Langston Hughes A Dream Deferred Essay Contest

Lorraine Hansberry begins A Raisin in the Sun, with the Langston Hughes poem “Harlem.”

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore –
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over –
Like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
Like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

I’ve known of this poem for years, but had only ever thought of it in connection with this play – what I hadn’t realized was that it was just one of a series of poems on the topic Hughes wrote, called Montage of a Dream Deferred. I am not a poet, nor am I a scholar of poetry, so I’m not going to analyze them, but I do want to share a few – they resonate throughout the play, and as we go into the rehearsal room each day, I find that the resonance grows stronger. What is the consequence of deferring your dreams? When does the desperation and the frustration kick in?

Dream Boogie
Good morning, daddy!
Ain’t you heard
The boogie-woogie rumble
Of a dream deferred?

Listen closely:
You’ll hear their feet
Beating out and beating out a –

You think
It’s a happy beat? 

Listen to it closely:
Ain’t you heard
Something underneath
Like a –

What did I say?

I’m happy!
Take it away!

Hey, pop!


Tell Me
Why should it be my loneliness,
Why should it be my song,
Why should it be my dream

This year, maybe, do you think I can graduate?
I’m already two years late.
Dropped out six months when I was seven,
At a year when I was eleven,
Then got put back when we come North.
To get through high at twenty’s kind of late –
But maybe this year I can graduate.

Maybe now I can have that white enamel stove
I dreamed about when we first fell in love
Eighteen years ago.
But you know,
Rooming and everything
Then kids,
Cold-water flat and all that.
But now my daughter’s married
And my boy’s most grown –
Quit school to work –
And where we’re moving
There ain’t no stove –
Maybe I can buy that white enamel stove!

Me, I always did want to study French.
It don’t make sense –
I’ll never go to France,
But night schools teach French.
Now at last I’ve got a job
Where I get off at five,
In time to wash and dress,
So, s’il vous plait, I’ll study French!

I’m gonna buy two new suits
At once!

All I want is
One more bottle of gin.

All I want is to see
My furniture paid for.

All I want is a wife who will
Work with me and not against me. Say,
Baby, could you see your way clear?

Heaven, heaven, is my home!
This world I’ll leave behind.
When I set my feet in glory
I’ll have a throne for mine!

I want to pass the civil service.

I want a television set.

You know, as old as I am,
I ain’t never
Owned a decent radio yet?

I’d like to take up Bach.

Of a dream

Buddy, have you heard?


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Published by Jenni Werner

I'm the literary director and resident dramaturg at Geva Theatre Center in Rochester, NY. Geva Journal is the place to talk about what happens onstage at Geva - how what we see onstage came to be, and how we all react to it - artists and audiences alike. Before arriving in Rochester, I spent 10 years at Theatre Communications Group, the national service organization for the American non-profit theatre field, based in New York City. My background is in dramaturgy. As a dramaturg, my main responsibility is to help paint a full picture of the world being created onstage. Dramaturgs do this for artists primarily by sharing information about the context of the world - the historical, biographical and social background. And we do this for audiences by creating opportunities to more fully engage in the world of the play - through lobby displays, articles online and in print, and conversations. And we ask questions. Lots and lots of questions. View all posts by Jenni Werner

The Dream Deferred Essay Contest (Ended)

You can read the curated essays from the contest in Arab Spring Dreams. Culled from five years of AIC's essay contest, the Arab Spring Dreams anthology highlights young thinkers who offer fresh insights on where the region is headed - and where it could go.


The essay contest was broken into two parts - one for Middle Eastern youth and one for American youth. Below are the divisions explained.

If you live in the Middle East...

Your Story: How does civil rights abuse in your local community impact you? Share a defining moment where you experienced civil rights restrictions (censorship, discrimination, etc.). How did this incident change you? Will your children's generation still face such repression?

Freedom: Given the historic changes in the Mideast over the past three years, do you feel more or less free? Reflect on changes in the region and in your local community. Explain, with examples, whether you enjoy greater rights today than a year ago. Do you expect to be more free a year from now?

In the Streets: If you participated in grassroots protests against repression, why did you join and what did you learn? Describe in vivid detail what you experienced, as well as how your life - and your attitude on individual rights - has changed. What challenges remain now?

Advocacy: How can individual rights be secured in the Mideast's new reality? Dictators may have fallen, yet individual rights remain fragile. What can you do to protect the rights of vulnerable members in your local community (women, minorities, etc.). Propose a concrete action plan.

Dream: What is your "dream deferred": a vision of your society with civil rights for all? Share your dream of a civil rights movement in your community. If you like, write a mock newspaper article from the future reporting on the effort.

Constitution: Several countries in the Mideast are in the process of trying to write a new constitution. Add your input by drafting a "Bill of Rights" designed to protect the basic civil rights of all citizens (generally or for a specific country). In addition to sharing your proposal, explain the values that motivated your constitutional text.

Viral Video: You have been given $1,000 to make a short video (1-4 mins) about individual rights in your society. Share the script, which can expose repression, showcase a campaign or dream of a better future. Bonus: Make the film and provide a YouTube link.

If you live in United States...

Perspective: How have the past three years changed your view of individual rights in the Mideast? As long-ignored civil rights challenges and new debates emerged, what did you learn? Consider how your own identity (background, experiences, etc.) has impacted your reaction.

Profile a Mideast Civil Rights Reformer: What about their work inspires you? Explain the challenge to individual rights this reformer addresses and the nonviolent approach used to advance change. Suggest ways that you as an individual in America can help support their work.

Profile an American Assisting Mideast Reform: How is this person leveraging their freedom to assist on the grassroots level in the Middle East? Explain how their assistance fills a need, and describe the tools (e.g. technology) used to make an impact. Explore ways you can assist.

Campus: What can you do in your community or campus to support Mideast civil rights efforts? Propose a campaign that mobilizes public pressure to support an effort to help advance individual rights in the region. Describe the campaign's demand and plan for enlisting support.

Dream: What is your "dream deferred" - a vision of Americans helping to protect individual rights in the Mideast? Imagine a successful campaign. If you like, write a mock article from the future reporting on your dream.

Solidarity: Some young Iranians organize a grassroots protest against laws that force all Iranian women to cover their hair in public. Inspired by Rosa Parks, the protestors take a simple yet provocative nonviolent action: They walk down the street uncovered. A brutal crackdown ensues. What do you do?

Viral Video: You have been given $1,000 to make a short video (1-4 mins) about individual rights in the Mideast. Share the script for your video, which can expose repression, showcase a campaign, or dream of a better future. bonus: Make the film and provide a YouTube link.


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