Born in Joplin, Missouri, James Langston Hughes was the great-great grandson of Charles Henry Langston (brother of John Mercer Langston, the first Black American to be elected to public office). He attended Central High School in Cleveland, Ohio, where he began writing poetry in the eighth grade. His father would discourage him from pursuing writing as a career, in favour of something ‘more practical’. Langston’s tuition fees to Columbia University were paid on the grounds that he study engineering.
After a while, he dropped out of the degree course, but continued to write poetry. His first published poem, The Negro Speaks of rivers, was also one of his most famous, appearing in Brownie’s Book. Later, his poems, short plays, essays and short stories would appear in the NAACP publication, Crisis Magazine, in Opportunity Magazine, and others.
Langston Hughes received a scholarship to Lincoln University, in Pennsylvania, where he received his B.A. degree in 1929. In 1943, he was awarded an honorary Literature Degree by his alma mater; a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1935 and a Rosenwald Fellowship in 1940. Based on a conversation with a man he knew in a Harlem bar, he created a character known as My Simple Minded Friend in a series of essays in the form of dialogue. In 1950, he named this lovable character Jess B. Simple, and authored a series of books on him.
Langston Hughes was a prolific writer. In forty-odd years between his first book in 1926 and his death in 1967, he devoted his life to writing and lecturing. He wrote sixteen books of poems, two novels, three collections of short stories, four volumes of “editorial” and “documentary” fiction,
Twenty plays, children’s poetry, musicals and operas, three autobiographies, a dozen radio and television scripts and dozens of magazine articles. In addition, he edited seven anthologies. The long and distinguished list of Hughes’ works includes: Not Without Laughter (1930); The Big Sea (1940); I Wonder As I Wander (1956), his autobiographies. His collections of poetry include: The Weary Blues (1926); The Negro Mother and other Dramatic Recitations (1931); The Dream Keeper (1932); Shakespeare in Harlem (1942); Fields of Wonder (1947); One Way Ticket (1947); The First Book of Jazz (1955); Tambourines To Glory (1958); and Selected Poems (1959); The Best of Simple (1961). He edited several anthologies in an attempt to popularize black authors and their works. Some of these are: An African Treasury (1960); Poems from Black Africa (1963); New Negro Poets: USA (1964) and The Best Short Stories by Negro Writers (1967).
Published posthumously were: Five Plays by Langston Hughes (1968); The Panther and The Lash: Poems of Our Times (1969) and Good Morning Revolution: Uncollected Writings of Social Protest (1973); The Sweet Flypaper of Life with Roy DeCarava (1984).
Langston Hughes died of cancer on May 22, 1967. His residence at 20 East 127th Street in Harlem, New York has been given landmark status by the New York City Preservation Commission. His block of East 127th Street was renamed “Langston Hughes Place”.
How do you believe society has evolved in the 20th century in relation to the subject matter read in many of Langston Hughes creative works? Do you think society has shifted far enough away from these ideas that his writing style would be considered outdated?
Please click on the link below to read the complete biography (this portion of his biography was excerpted from the website below) of Langston Hughes and to enjoy a sample of his creative works.
Other Related Links:
Langston Hughes Biography
The Weary Blues
The Negro Speaks of Rivers
Life Is Fine
Juke Box Love Song
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