Langston Hughes Additional Biography


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 the time he spent at sea and abroad during this period of his life. His exposure to American blues and jazz players in Paris nightclubs and his experiences in Europe, and especially in Africa, although brief, provided a rich source of material that he used over the next decades in his writing.

The years between 1919 and 1929 have been variously referred to as the Harlem Renaissance, the New Negro movement, and the Harlem Awakening. They were years of rich productivity within the black artistic community, and Hughes was an important element in that renaissance. While working as a busboy in the Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C., in 1925, Hughes showed some of his poems—“Jazzonia,” “Negro Dancers,” and “The Weary Blues”—to Vachel Lindsay, who read them during one of his performances that same evening. The next day, Hughes was presented to the local press as “the busboy...

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(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

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.


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

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 socialist ideas. When Hughes’s father, having become prosperous, asked Hughes to join him in Mexico in 1920, Hughes rode a train across the...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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 family and with regular meals, were much more zealously religious than Hughes’s family. In “Salvation,” Hughes recounts the loss of his faith when he felt abandoned by Jesus, who did not come to save him during the revival at Auntie Reed’s church. Hughes, who was almost thirteen at the time, pretended that he had seen Jesus, and he says he cried in bed that night because he had deceived everybody in the church.

In 1914, Langston’s mother remarried, and in 1916, Langston joined his mother and stepfather, Homer Clark, in Cleveland, where Clark was then a steelworker. Clark shifted jobs frequently, and often the family was financially insecure or impoverished. Nevertheless, the four years Hughes spent at Central High School were productive in introducing him to music, poetry, and art. Throughout his school years, Hughes was an avid reader, and he was influenced particularly by Carl Sandburg’s poetry.

In 1921, when Hughes arrived as a student at Columbia University, he learned that the school had an unstated policy not to house black students. Though the...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical 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,...

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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...

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Hughes was born James Langston Hughes in 1902 in Joplin, Missouri, to James Nathaniel and Carrie Mercer Langston Hughes, who separated...

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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...

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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...

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Langston Hughes Published by Gale Cengage

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...

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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...

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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...

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