Langston Hughes was born on February 1, 1902 in Joplin, Missouri. He was an only child whose parents divorced when he was a small child, and his father left for Mexico. Because his mother needed to travel a lot to look for work, he was raised by his grandmother until the age of 13. He then moved to Lincoln, Illinois to live with his mom and her husband. It was in Lincoln that he began writing poetry.
Hughes turned to books because his childhood was lonely. His grandmother shared her love of literature with him and showed him the importance of being educated.
After graduating high school, Hughes spent a year with his father in Mexico and then a year at Columbia University in New York City. He then traveled to Africa and Europe. In 1924 he finally settled in Harlem, New York. Hughes' first book of poetry, The Weary Blues, was published in 1926. Three years later he completed his college education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. His first novel, Not Without Laughter, was published in 1930, and it won the Harmon gold medal for literature.
Langston Hughes was influenced by Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Carl Sandburg, and Walt Whitman.
Hughes was a prominent figure of the Harlem Renaissance. This was a time of artistic boom during the 1920s. Many African Americans moved north, settling in areas like Chicago and New York. Harlem, New York became a predominantly black community. There was a surge of creative and cultural expressions in the form of music, art, literature, and dancing.
Hughes' poetry portrayed what life was like for African Americans, from their suffering to their love of music. Because of showing both the good and bad about his culture, he was criticized by black intellectuals for his early works. Critics thought he gave a negative view of black life.
Langston Hughes died on May 22, 1967 as a result of complications from prostate cancer, but his impact on the American society lived on and is still touching the lives of his readers.
Interesting Facts about Langston Hughes
- His full name was James Mercer Langston Hughes.
- Before he turned 12, Hughes lived in 6 different cities.
- During his senior year of high school he was voted class poet and editor of the school newspaper.
- He spent time working as a truck farmer, cook, waiter, sailor, and a doorman at a nightclub.
- Hughes was the first African American to support himself as a writer.
- He wrote 60 books from 1926-1967.
- Hughes wrote poetry while sitting in clubs and listening to the blues.
- He lectured in schools and colleges.
- He edited two anthologies: The Poetry of the Negro and The Book of Negro Folklore
- A postal stamp was released in February 2002 that honored Langston Hughes.
- The library at Lincoln University is named after him.
- Hughes' residence in Harlem, NY has been given landmark status, and East 127th Street has been renamed "Langston Hughes Place."