Biography of Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes was an American poet, essayist, playwright, and short story writer. He is still considered one of the most renowned contributors to American literature in the 20th century. He rose to prominence during the Harlem Renaissance and continued to produce experimental and groundbreaking work for the next several decades. Hughes was known for vocalizing the concerns of working-class African Americans. His work was deeply influenced by jazz, and he often wrote in a simple and straightforward fashion, sometimes even using the vernacular.

Hughes was born in 1902 in Joplin, Missouri, a descendant of prominent abolitionists. His racial heritage was a mix of Indian, African, and French. Hughes's father moved to Mexico while the poet was still a child, and Hughes's mother took him to Lawrenceville, Kansas to live with his grandmother. Hughes and his mother lived an itinerant lifestyle while she looked for work, and she made sure to expose her son to literature and theater. Hughes began writing at an early age and published poems and short stories in his Cleveland high school periodical. He also became the editor of the school's annual and was elected his class poet. Besides the work of Walt Whitman and Carl Sandburg, Hughes found inspiration in the writing of leftists, philosophers, and progressives.

After graduating from high school, Langston Hughes traveled to Mexico to visit his father. Along the way, he composed his first major poem, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," which was published in W.E.B. DuBois's The Crisis. In 1921, Hughes wrote a prize-winning poem called "The Weary Blues." That poem also appeared in a volume of the same name in 1926. Over the next few years, Hughes met and befriended Alain Locke, Zora Neale Hurston, and Carl Van Vechten, all of whom were associated with the Harlem Renaissance. Langston Hughes traveled to Europe before graduating from Pennsylvania's Lincoln University in 1929.

In 1930, Hughes received a Harmon Foundation Medal for his novel Not Without Laughter. He continued to garner public recognition and win awards for the next three decades, including the Guggenheim Fellowship, a Rosenwald Fund Fellowship, the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP, and an induction to the National Institute of Arts and Letters.

In the 1930s, Hughes's poems became more radical as the racial tensions in America became increasingly divisive. His commitment to Marxist ideals is evident in pieces like "Good Morning Revolution," and his internal conflict with Christianity is apparent in "Goodbye Christ" (1932), which is also his most controversial poem. Hughes wrote about the Spanish Civil War in 1937 for the Baltimore Afro-American. During the 1930s, he also worked regularly in the theater, collaborating with Zora Neale Hurston on Mule Bone (their friendship ended because of this play; Hurston claimed full authorship).

Hughes eventually settled in Harlem but continued to travel throughout his life. He wrote sixteen books of poetry, two novels, seven collections of short stories, two autobiographies, four nonfiction works, ten books for children and more than twenty-five plays.

Hughes never married and is not known to have had any significant romantic relationships. He died alone in 1967 at a hospital in Harlem due to complications from prostate cancer. The New York Times obituary stated, "Mr. Hughes was sometimes characterized as the 'O. Henry of Harlem.' He was an extremely versatile and productive author who was particularly well known for his folksy humor.'"


Study Guides on Works by Langston Hughes

The Big Sea is a novel written by Langston Hughes in 1993 and is an autobiography of the author. The story revolves around the life of the author, Langston Hughes, who grows up in America and faces the same challenges as those brought upon other...

While Langston Hughes wrote a myriad of plays, short stories, and essays, he is primarily known for his poetry, especially the verses he wrote during the Harlem Renaissance. Scholars and critics regularly refer to him the “African American Poet...