Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

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Langston Hughes (1902-1967) wrote 14 books of poetry, three books of translated poetry, 17 books of prose, 11 dramatic works, two well-known autobiographies, and translated one book. When he was a child, his parents divorced and his father moved to Mexico, so he was raised by his grandmother until he was thirteen. He then moved to Illinois to be with his mother and her husband, which is where he first wrote poetry. The family eventually moved to Ohio. After high school, Hughes spent a year in Mexico and a year at Columbia University. He then worked in various jobs and traveled to Africa and Europe before living in Washington, DC for 16 months, which was a rather dark time in his life.

Despite battling feelings of depression and restlessness, his time in Washington, DC was crucial to his writing in that his experiences there fortified his passion for furthering the causes of the lower class black population, which his writing often stemmed from. When he arrived in Washington to live with his mother and cousins, he was quite poor, which was a shock to his dignified cousins who were active in the upper-class social scene of the area and urged him to try to get upper-class jobs in the artistic realm. Hughes was more “down-to-earth” than his cousins, however, and did not mind taking more “common” jobs, seemingly preferring the more humble attitude of them. One important aspect of his time in Washington was his participation in the Saturday Nighters Club, which was the literary salon at Georgia Douglass Johnson’s house, jokingly dubbed the “Half-Way House.” This is where Hughes began making connections with people in the New York segment of the Harlem Renaissance. He also met Waring Cuney, who encouraged him to go to Lincoln University in Pennsylvania.

Hughes took Cuney’s advice and moved to Pennsylvania to finish college at Lincoln University, after which he moved to New York. His first novel, Not without Laughter (1930), won the Harmon gold medal for literature. His passion was to write about the common black experience in America with tidbits of their “actual” culture. Hughes was also known for his love of jazz and its influence on his poetry. A few of his poetry books include The Panther and the Lash (1967), Shakespeare in Harlem (1942), and The Weary Blues (1926). Hughes’s residence in New York was given landmark status, and East 127th Street is called the “Langston Hughes Place.” http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/83 AND http://washingtonart.com/beltway/hughes2.html DC Writers' Homes: http://dcwriters.poetrymutual.org/pages/hughes.html

Written by Monica Root December 2013


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