Did Langston Hughes's geographical background influence his work?

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Although Langston Hughes (1902–1967) is strongly associated with Harlem and the Harlem Renaissance movement, he actually lived in that area of New York City for less than half his life—in the early 1920s, and then from the mid-1940s until his death. Hughes’s parents separated when he was young, and he...

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Although Langston Hughes (1902–1967) is strongly associated with Harlem and the Harlem Renaissance movement, he actually lived in that area of New York City for less than half his life—in the early 1920s, and then from the mid-1940s until his death. Hughes’s parents separated when he was young, and he mostly grew up with his mother and grandmother in several different states in the central United States. Racism was a strong motivating factor in his father’s decision to move to Mexico, and at age 18 Langston went there to live with him. The opportunity to have different cultural experiences and see an equally rigid, but different system of social stratification had an influence on his thinking.

Living in Harlem in the early 1920s was a powerful influence as well, as he was surrounded by like-minded African Americans who were active in the arts. His subsequent travels spoke of his desire to experience more of the working person’s life as well as become involved in a different artistic environment. Working on a freighter, he crossed the Atlantic and became a part of the artistic world of Europeans and American expatriates in Paris in the 1920s. Hughes, who was drawn to socialist and communist ideas of revolutionary change, also had the opportunity to visit the Soviet Union. The impact of that trip later included some negative consequences, as he was called in for questioning by the House Un-American Activities Committee about his supposed Community Party membership. Hughes also traveled to Africa at a time when few African Americans did so.

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