Langston Hughes was an African-American writer best known for “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and poetry chronicling the struggle of African Americans. Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri, on February 1, 1902. His father moved to Mexico when Langston was only two years old because he didn’t think black people were treated fairly in the United States. Langston Hughes never saw his father again because of this, but he did keep in touch with him through letters. Langston Hughes was raised by his mother and grandmother after his father left. Langston’s early life consisted of moving around a lot throughout the Midwest.
Langston Hughes was an African-American poet, novelist, playwright, and social activist. He was one of the earliest innovators of the then new literary art form jazz poetry. Langston Hughes was also a prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance.
Hughes is mostly remembered for his work during the Harlem Renaissance along with contemporaries Zora Neale Hurston , Countee Cullen , Wallace Thurman , Claude McKay , Jean Toomer, Richard Bruce Nugent , and Aaron Douglas . He famously wrote about the period that “the negro was in vogue” – which was later paraphrased as “when Harlem was in vogue”.
The second youngest of seven children, Langston Hughes grew up in Lawrence, Kansas but spent much of his childhood in a series of Midwestern and Eastern boarding houses following the breakup of his parents’ marriage and subsequent move of his mother, Carrie Langston Hughes, to Cleveland, Ohio.
Hughes excelled academically early in life; he was admitted into Columbia University at the age of 20 and published his first collection of poetry . He received a M.A. from Columbia University and later studied at the Sorbonne as well as the Institut des Hautes Études Internationales in Geneva, Switzerland.
His first book was “The Weary Blues” (1926), which was well-received by critics such as Van Wyck Brooks , but sales were poor because many bookstores refused to stock it due to the subject matter of black culture . His follow-up poems, “The Dream Keeper” and “Fine Clothes to the Jew”, brought him commercial success. Langston Hughes’s fame rose as he continued to produce poetry, plays, short stories , essays, humor pieces, and novels throughout his lifetime.
After traveling extensively through Europe and Africa as well as organizing countless literary events for the Associated Negro Press (ANP) in various cities around America, Langston Hughes embarked on a career as a screenwriter with the film based on his novel Not Without Laughter in 1930. He moved to Hollywood briefly after its release but soon returned to New York where he worked until the outbreak of World War II when he enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps as a gunner. Langston Hughes was discharged from the army due to medical reasons but continued to write prolifically, even producing one of his most famous poems ” Dream Variations “.
After World War II Langston Hughes wrote his column “Here to Yonder” for the Chicago Defender newspaper and published another novel Not without laughter . In 1950 he moved with his family to Harlem where he lived until his death in 1967 from complications of hypertension. Langston Hughes’ ashes are interred beneath a floor medallion at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City. The center is now home to almost a half-million Langston Hughes papers and memorabilia.
Langston attended Central High School in Cleveland where he wrote for the school newspaper. It was during this time that Langston decided to become a writer. He went on to attend Columbia University from 1920-1921, but he dropped out after only one semester because he wanted to experience more of the world before settling down at college (Langguth 409). This desire led Hughes to travel throughout Mexico, Europe, and Africa (O’Meally, “Biography” Langston Hughes 3). Langston also spent several years doing manual labor such as working on a freighter and in factories to support himself.
Langston returned to the United States and attended Langston University for about a year before moving back to New York City (Langguth 411). Hughes’ first poems were published in 1921 and by 1926 he had his first book of poetry accepted for publication. Some of Langston’s most famous poems include “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” “I’ve Known Rivers,” “Let America Be America Again” and many others (“Langston Hughes Biography”). Langston also wrote novels including Not Without Laughter , The Ways of White Folks , and The Langston Hughes Reader .
Langston Hughes’ experiences with racism and the struggles of African Americans for equality are evident in his poetry. Langston Hughes died of complications from prostate cancer on May 22, 1967. Langston was an educated man who did not allow himself to be affected by ignorance or hatred. Langston did what he wanted because he did not want to break any rules that did not benefit himself. Langston’s poems reflect his love for life, love for people, and determination to make a difference in this world despite hardships that are often out of his control.
Langston Hughes used writing to get across the struggles of black Americans at the time when many white Americans refused to acknowledge them as equals deserving of the same rights. Langston used poetry to show humanity, kindness, passion, and love in the midst of racism that often led to violence against black people at the time. Langston Hughes is remembered as a writer who was not afraid to tell it like it was with his words. Langston’s poems are still relevant today because they reflect the problems we face as humans throughout history.