James Langston Hughes, better
known as Langston Hughes was born February 1, 1902, in Joplin, Missouri. Primarily
his grandmother raised him until he turned thirteen because his parents were divorced.
After his thirteenth birthday he went to live with his mother and her new husband in Lincoln, Illinois. The family eventually settled in Cleveland, Ohio.
Hughes was the descendent of some very famous Hughes’ who were active in the struggle for African-American rights. His grandmother, Mary Langston, first husband died at Harpers Ferry as a member of
John Brown’s band. Her second husband, Langston’s grandfather, was a militant abolitionist. His grandfather’s brother, John Mercer Langston was the first Black American to be elected to public
office in 1855.
writing poetry at a young age. After graduation from high school, his father
encouraged him to seek a practical career. He even paid for Langston’s
education at Columbia University. However Langston dropped out of the engineering program after one year (1922) to pursue
a literary career. During this time he traveled to Mexico, worked as an assistant
cook, busboy and launderer. He traveled to Senegal Nigeria, the Cameroons, Belgium
Congo, Angola and Guinea in Africa and later to Italy, France, Russia and Spain as a seaman on a freighter. When Langston returned to the United States in 1924 he was well known in the African American literary
influences were Walt Whitman, Carl Sandburg, Paul Laurence Dunbar and Claude McKay.
Dunbar, an expert in standard verse, and McKay, a lyrical specialist, were black poets like Hughes who wrote about
the black life in America. Although Sandburg was not a black poet he influenced
Hughes to write more in free verse.
two books, The Weary Blues (1926) and Fine Clothes to the Jew (1927) were published before he graduated college
from Lincoln University in 1929. Because Hughes wrote passionately about lower-class
black life he was attack in the black press about his views. However what he did write in those first two published books
established him as a major force during the Harlem Renaissance period. The Harlem Renaissance was a phase when jazz and blues
were key elements in expressing the African American experience in America, from grief and sadness to hope and determination.
Langston Hughes was the “god-father” of this period. During the Harlem Renaissance period he wrote many works
but he also collaborated with jazz bands, gospel musicians and other writers and poets to tell the story of the African American
Hughes literary career included sixteen books of poem, two novels, three collections of short stories, four volumes of “editorial”
and documentary” fiction, twenty plays, children’s poetry, musicals and operas, three autobiographies, radio and
television scripts, magazine articles and he edited seven anthologies.
died of prostrate cancer on May 22, 1967 in New York City. His former residence at 20 East 127th Street in Harlem
has been given landmark status by the New York City Preservation Commission, and East 127th Street was renamed
“Langston Hughes Place.”