Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: Twentieth Century)
Article abstract: While Hughes’s greatest achievement was his poetry, which related and celebrated the African American experience, he was also a novelist, dramatist, short story writer, and journalist, making him one of the most versatile black American writers to grow out of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s and 1930’s.
James Mercer Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri, in 1902 to parents who would soon separate. His father, contemptuous of racist barriers that kept him from achieving his professional goals, settled in Mexico, where he prospered as a lawyer and landowner. His mother, refusing to accompany her husband, moved wherever work was available. She had an interest in the arts that she conveyed to her young son. She also valued a good education and, while living in Topeka, Kansas, insisted that her son be enrolled as a first grader in a white school rather than a black school. In 1909, when economic necessity demanded that she seek employment elsewhere, she took the seven-year-old child to live with his grandmother in Lawrence, Kansas.
A solitary child, Hughes spent his early years reading and listening to his grandmother’s stories about the black people’s heroic quest for freedom and their noble, unflinching determination to achieve liberty and justice. After her death in 1914, Hughes moved to Lincoln, Illinois, to live with his mother and stepfather. He finished...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: American Poets)
James Mercer Langston Hughes (the first two names were soon dropped) was born in Joplin, Missouri, on February 1, 1902. His parents, James Nathaniel Hughes and Carrie Mercer Langston Hughes, separated when Hughes was young; by the time he was twelve, he had lived in several cities: Buffalo, N.Y.; Cleveland; Lawrence and Topeka, Kansas; Colorado Springs, and Mexico City (where his father lived). Until 1914, however, Hughes lived mainly with his maternal grandmother in Lawrence.
Hughes began writing poetry during his grammar school days in Lincoln, Illinois. While attending Cleveland’s Central High School (1916-1920), Hughes wrote his first short story, “Mary Winosky,” and published poems in the school’s literary publications. The first national publication of his work came in 1921, when The Crisis published “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” The poem had been written while Hughes was taking a train on his way to see his father in Mexico City, a visit that the young man dreaded making. His hatred for his father, fueled by his father’s contempt for poor people who could not make anything of themselves, actually led to Hughes’s being hospitalized briefly in 1919.
Hughes’s father did, however, send his son to Columbia University in 1921. Although Hughes did not stay at Columbia, his experiences in Harlem laid the groundwork for his later love affair with the city within a city. Equally important to Hughes’s later work was...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
James Mercer Langston Hughes came from an educated family whose energies were spent primarily in entrepreneurial efforts to combat poverty and institutionalized racism in order to survive. His life repeats a well-known pattern of early twentieth century African American families: a resourceful mother who rented out their home to boarders, a father who had to leave home to find work, a grandmother who cared for him during his early years, and a stepfather. He grew up in the Midwest—Kansas, Illinois, and Ohio—and participated in athletics as well as in literary activities in high school.
Graduating from Central High School in Lincoln, Illinois, in 1920, Hughes attended Columbia University before shipping out on liners bound for Africa and Holland. He also traveled extensively in Europe before returning to the United States in 1925. Then, in 1929, he received a B.A. from Lincoln University, Pennsylvania. Hughes at first subsisted with the help of patrons, but gradually began to earn a living on the proceeds from his writings and his poetry readings. Although mainly basing himself in Harlem, New York City, Hughes continued to travel extensively. He won numerous prizes, grants, and fellowships for his literary achievements before his death in 1967.
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A prominent African American writer, Langston Hughes led an active literary life. His writings extend from the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s to the Black Arts movement of the 1960’s. Hughes’s father abandoned his wife and infant son in 1903 to seek wealth in Mexico. His mother, unable to find menial labor in Joplin, moved frequently to look for work. In his youth, Hughes lived predominantly with his maternal grandmother in Lawrence, Kansas. Hughes understood poverty, dejection, and loneliness, but from his grandmother he learned the valuable lessons of perseverance and laughter. Her resilience and ingenuity made a lasting impression upon Hughes’s imagination, and she seems the prototype of his self-assured female characters.
After his grandmother’s death, Hughes reunited with his mother in Lincoln, Illinois, but for a time was placed with his Auntie Reed and her husband, religious people who pressured Hughes into joining their church. Hughes marked this unsuccessful attempt at conversion as the beginning of his religious disbelief, as illustrated in the story “Salvation.”
Hughes later moved to Cleveland, where his intellectual growth began in earnest. His earliest poems were influenced by Paul Laurence Dunbar and Carl Sandburg. He read the German philosophers Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche and was introduced to...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
James Mercer Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri, on February 1, 1902, to James Nathaniel and Carrie Mercer Langston Hughes. In 1903, Langston’s father, angered and frustrated by a series of events, including the all-white Oklahoma examining board’s refusal to let him take the bar examination, left the United States for Mexico, where he prospered and eventually sent money for the support of his son.
Hughes says in his first autobiography, The Big Sea (1940), that he hated his father, that his father was interested only in making money, and that his father was contemptuous of black people, Mexicans, and anyone who was poor. Langston’s mother, who refused to accompany his father to Mexico, was unable to find work, despite her year of college at the University of Kansas. Consequently, she moved from city to city, sometimes taking Langston with her. She worked at poorly paid clerical jobs that provided insufficient income to support her and her child. Mostly, Langston lived with his grandmother in Lawrence, Kansas, for almost nine years, until her death in 1912.
Upon his grandmother’s death, Hughes was sent to live with family friends, Uncle and Auntie Reed, key figures in his often-anthologized essay “Salvation,” excerpted from The Big Sea. Uncle and Auntie Reed, while they provided Hughes with a sense of...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Hughes, in addition to his significant role in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s and 1930’s and the Black Arts movement of the 1960’s, left much powerful literature that breaks new ground in combining elements of blues and jazz with prose and poetry.
Throughout Hughes’s writing, his integrity and his commitment to clarity are evident. Through his candid depictions of his characters, such as Jesse B. Simple, Roy Williams, Oceola Jones, and Dora Ellsworth, Hughes helps readers understand more about everyday people, about artists, about humanity.
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Few authors of the twentieth century are more significant than Langston Hughes. The length of his career, the variety of his output, his influence on three generations of African American writers, his concern for the “ordinary” African American, and his introduction of the jazz idiom to American poetry assure his status. Hughes’s father, James Nathaniel Hughes, left his family when Hughes was a baby and eventually became a prosperous lawyer and rancher in Mexico. Langston Hughes’s mother, Carrie Mercer Langston Hughes, who had attended college and had an artistic temperament, had great difficulty supporting her family. As a result, much of Hughes’s childhood was spent in Lawrence, Kansas, with his maternal grandmother, Mary Sampson Patterson Leary Langston, a proud woman who was the last surviving widow of John Brown’s 1859 raid at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. He also stayed briefly with his mother in Topeka, Kansas, and in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and he traveled with her to see his father in Mexico when he was seven.
After his mother married Homer Clark, the family moved to Lincoln, Illinois, and then to Cleveland, Ohio. There Hughes published poems in his high school magazine and edited the yearbook. After graduation, he spent an extended period of time with his father in Mexico, where he had articles, poems, and a children’s play...
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Hughes was born in in 1902 in Joplin, Missouri, to James Nathaniel and Carrie Mercer Langston Hughes, who separated shortly after their son's birth. Hughes's mother had attended college, while his father, who wanted to become a lawyer, took correspondence courses in law. Denied a chance to take the Oklahoma bar exam, Hughes's father went first to Missouri and then, still unable to become a lawyer, left his wife and son to move first to Cuba and then to Mexico. In Mexico, he became a wealthy landowner and lawyer. Because of financial difficulties, Hughes's mother moved frequently in search of steady work, often leaving him with her parents. His grandmother Mary Leary Langston was the first black woman to attend Oberlin College. She inspired the boy to read books and value an education. When his grandmother died in 1910, Hughes lived with family friends and various relatives in Kansas. In 1915 he joined his mother and new stepfather in Lincoln, Illinois, where he attended grammar school. The following year, the family moved to Cleveland, Ohio. There he attended Central High School, excelling in both academics and sports. Hughes also wrote poetry and short fiction for the Belfry Owl, the high school literary magazine, and edited the school yearbook. In 1920 Hughes left to visit his father in Mexico, staying in that country for a year. Returning home in 1921, he attended Columbia University for a year before dropping out. For a time he worked as a cabin boy on a...
(The entire section is 555 words.)
Hughes was born James Langston Hughes in 1902 in Joplin, Missouri, to James Nathaniel and Carrie Mercer Langston Hughes, who separated shortly after their son’s birth. Hughes’s mother had attended college, while his father, who wanted to become a lawyer, took correspondence courses in law. Denied a chance to take the Oklahoma bar exam, Hughes’ father went first to Missouri and then, still unable to become a lawyer, left his wife and son to move first to Cuba and then to Mexico. In Mexico, he became a wealthy landowner and lawyer. Because of financial difficulties, Hughes’s mother moved frequently in search of steady work, often leaving him with her parents. His grandmother Mary Leary Langston was the first black woman to attend Oberlin College. She inspired the boy to read books and value an education. When his grandmother died in 1910, Hughes lived with family friends and various relatives in Kansas. In 1915 he joined his mother and new stepfather in Lincoln, Illinois, where he attended grammar school. The following year, the family moved to Cleveland, Ohio. There he attended Central High School, excelling in both academics and sports. Hughes also wrote poetry and short fiction for the Belfry Owl, the high school literary magazine, and edited the school yearbook. In 1920 Hughes left to visit his father in Mexico, staying in that country for a year. Returning home in 1921, he attended Columbia University for a year before dropping out. For a time he...
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Hughes was born on February 1, 1902, in Joplin, Missouri. His African American father left the family to move to Mexico. In addition, his mother left Hughes with his grandparents in Kansas while she tried in vain to pursue a career in the theater. This parental rejection profoundly affected Hughes, who spent most of his time alone reading. His grandmother—whose first husband had fought and died for John Brown, a noted abolitionist—instilled in the young Hughes a desire to achieve social and racial equality. Hughes was an intelligent child who excelled in his classes despite the prejudice that he faced. In the mid-1910s, he moved to Lincoln, Illinois, to live with his mother, who had divorced his father and remarried. Hughes moved again in 1916 to Cleveland, where his writing talent ultimately helped to make him popular enough to be the class poet in his senior year. After high school, he tried living in Mexico for a year with his father, then entered Columbia University in 1921. Due to racial prejudice, Hughes quit school and worked at various odd jobs, including serving on a number of sea vessels. On one voyage, in 1924, he left his post when they reached Paris and stayed in the city for several months.
At the same time, he was publishing many pieces of poetry in magazines and in 1926 published his first volume of poetry, The Weary Blues. His second volume of poetry, Fine Clothes to the Jew (1927), elicited harsh commentary from some...
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James Langston Hughes was born on February 1, 1902, in Joplin, Missouri. His unusual middle name had been the birth name of his mother, a teacher. His father was a lawyer and businessman. Hughes grew up mainly in Lawrence, Kansas, a lonely child drawn to reading and writing. His first poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” was published in the June 1921 issue of the magazine Crisis, edited by the sociologist and political leader W. E. B. DuBois. It became one of Hughes’s best-known and most anthologized poems.
After a year at Columbia University in New York, Hughes took simple jobs, traveled around the world, and continued to publish poems. He returned to the United States in 1924, already recognized as one of the most talented young African American poets in the movement known as the Harlem Renaissance. Hughes thrived in the atmosphere of Harlem, soaking up jazz and blues music, leftist politics, and racial pride. Within the next six years he would graduate from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and publish two highly regarded collections of poems, The Weary Blues (1926) and Fine Clothes to the Jew (1927), and a novel, Not without Laughter (1930). Through the next twenty-five years Hughes published more poetry, some of it rather radical politically, as well as plays, short stories, essays, and a weekly newspaper column. His writing explored and celebrated the African American experience, often incorporating musical elements and...
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Zora Neale Hurston was born January 7, 1891, in Eatonville Florida. She was forced to leave school at age thirteen so that she could care for her brother’s children. She was later able to return to school and eventually studied Anthropology at Barnard College and Columbia University. During this time, Hurston began publishing short stories. In 1927, together with Langston Hughes and other artists, she founded a literary magazine, Fire!, which was devoted to African-American culture. The magazine quickly folded, and after graduation, Hurston returned to Florida to complete research for her anthropological studies.
The information she gathered on Negro folklore became the basis for much of her writing. Hurston published her first novel, Jonah’s Gourd Vine, in 1934 and a collection of short stories, Mules and Men, in 1935. Her most famous work, Their Eyes Were Watching God, was published in 1937. By the 1940s, Hurston’s career had begun to fail. Publishers, who thought that her recent work lacked the depth and insight of previous efforts, rejected her work. An autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road, was published in 1942, and her last published novel, Seraph on the Suwanee, was published in 1948.
Hurston spent the last years of her life in Florida, where she worked variously as a cleaning woman, a librarian, a newspaper reporter, and a substitute teacher. She died penniless at the Saint Lucie County, Florida, Welfare Home January 28, 1960. Hurston was buried in an unmarked grave in the Fort Pierce segregated cemetery.
(James) Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri, on February 1, 1902. Hughes’s parents separated shortly after his birth. His father eventually settled in Mexico and his mother left him in the care of his maternal grandmother, who raised Hughes until her death in 1910. For the next four years, Hughes lived with family friends and relatives until he joined his mother and new stepfather in Ohio in 1914.
Having encountered racism at Columbia University, Hughes dropped out of college after his freshman year and began working a series of odd jobs. While working as a bus boy in a hotel in Washington D. C., Hughes placed three poems on poet Vachel Lindsay’s dinner plate. The resulting attention eventually led Hughes to a critic who helped him publish his first collection of poems, The Weary Blues, in 1926. Shortly after this publication, Hughes enrolled in Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, where he continued writing.
Hughes’s first collection of short fiction, The Ways of White Folks, was published in 1934, and a series of sketches known as his ‘‘Simple Tales,’’ which were about a black Everyman, were published in the Chicago Defender. The Simple Tales were very popular with black readers and were eventually published in a series of books. Hughes also began writing drama in the 1930s, but he always considered himself primarily a poet. Although his work sometimes received mixed reactions from blacks who were concerned that he emphasized lower-class life and presented an unfavorable image of his race, Hughes’s work was a critical success and he received many honors and awards during his life, including a Guggenheim fellowship for creative work in 1935. Hughes died May 22, 1967, of congestive heart failure in New York City.
IntroductionLangston Hughes was an integral part of the Harlem Renaissance, a period during the 1920s and 1930s that was characterized by an artistic flowering of African-American writers, musicians, and visual artists intensely proud of their black heritage. Langston Hughes contributed to the era by bringing the rhythm of jazz, the vernacular of his people, and the social concerns of the day to his verse. “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” in his first collection, The Weary Blues (1926), looks at the past as a source of pride. Other poems capture the rhythm of music and beat of language, such as “Juke Box Love Song.” Still others, like “Theme for English B” and “I, Too, Sing America,” simultaneously express the desire for an integrated world and a warning to those who would try to keep the black race subservient.
- Hughes was raised primarily by his grandmother. She told him important stories of the African-American oral tradition that would influence his work.
- Hughes’ father wanted him to become an engineer, so Hughes attended Columbia for a time. He left because of racial intolerance and because he wanted to spend more time writing in Harlem.
- He graduated from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in 1929. Among his classmates was future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
- For a number of years, Hughes was attracted to some of the political philosophies of the Communist Party. Though accused of being a member, he never actually joined.
- Hughes died of prostate cancer in 1967 at the age of 65. His ashes are buried in Harlem under a special medallion in the Arthur Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
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James Langston Hughes was born on February 1, 1902, in Joplin, Missouri. Hughes was the only child of James Nathaniel Hughes and Carrie Mercer Hughes nee Langston. The elder Hughes left soon after his son's birth, eventually settling in Mexico, where he prospered in a variety of business ventures. Young James and his mother, however, struggled to make ends meet. He spent many years living with various relatives and family friends as his mother traveled in search of work. When his mother was remarried and settled in 1914, he joined her in Cleveland, Ohio. At Central High School, he proved himself as a student and as an athlete, and began writing poetry and short fiction for the school's literary magazine.
After graduating from high school, Hughes taught English in Mexico for a year. He also became a regular contributor to the Crisis, a magazine published by the NAACP and one of the cornerstones of the early fight for civil rights. In 1921, Hughes spent a year at Columbia University in New York City. There he studied English literature and explored the city's rich social and intellectual life. He also became a regular at events sponsored by the American Socialist Society. After leaving Columbia University, Hughes supported himself and his mother—who now lived in Harlem—with a variety of menial jobs. In 1923, he signed on as a cabin boy with a freighter bound for West Africa. He travelled across Europe for the next two years, living hand-to-mouth...
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Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri, in 1902. His parents divorced, and he grew up with his mother and grandmother, moving frequently around the South and Midwest. Hughes first went to New York at age nineteen in order to attend Columbia University. He soon dropped out of college, but stayed in New York where he met the group of writers and intellectuals with whom he was to socialize and collaborate over the next decade. Together they forged the literary movement known as the Harlem Renaissance. When Hughes published his first book of poetry, The Weary Blues, in 1926, he was immediately recognized as a significant literary talent. That year he enrolled at Lincoln University, sponsored by a wealthy white patron, Mrs. Osgood Mason, a woman to whom Hughes referred as "godmother." With her pressure and encouragement, Hughes continued to write as he earned his degree. But in 1930 he broke off his emotional and financial relationship with Mrs. Mason and with several of his Harlem Renaissance peers.
Hans Ostrom writes," The Ways of White Folks closes an early phase of Hughes's life and literary career and opens a new, more sober one." It was Hughes's first book after breaking with his patron, and it displays his growing radical political consciousness. While traveling in the Soviet Union in 1932, Hughes read British modernist D. H. Lawrence's "The Lovely Lady." Its main character reminded him of Mrs. Mason, and its direct style of...
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