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Cause of Death
Hughes died from complications after abdominal surgery, related to prostate cancer
Claim to Fame
American poet, novelist, playwright, short story writer, and columnist. Hughes is known for his work during the Harlem Renaissance
James Mercer Langston Hughes (February 1, 1902 – May 22, 1967) was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist.
Profile Bio Text
The son of Carrie Langston Hughes (a teacher) and her husband, James Nathaniel Hughes, Langston Hughes was born James Mercer Langston Hughes in Joplin, Missouri. After abandoning his family and the later legal dissolution of the marriage, James Hughes left for Cuba, then Mexico, as a consequence of the enduring racism in the United States. After the separation of his parents, young Langston was raised mainly by his grandmother, Mary Langston, as his mother sought employment. Through the black American oral tradition of storytelling, she would instill in the young Langston Hughes a sense of lasting racial pride. He spent most of childhood in Lawrence, Kansas. After the death of his grandmother, he went to live with family friends, James and Mary Reed, for two years. Due to an unstable early life, his childhood was not an entirely happy one, but it was one that heavily influenced the poet he would become. Later, he lived again with his mother in Lincoln, Illinois, who had remarried when he was still an adolescent, and eventually in Cleveland, Ohio, where he attended high school.
While in grammar school in Lincoln, Illinois, he was designated class poet. Hughes stated in retrospect that this was because of the stereotype that African Americans have rhythm. "I was a victim of a stereotype. There were only two of us Negro kids in the whole class and our English teacher was always stressing the importance of rhythm in poetry. Well, everyone knows — except us — that all Negroes have rhythm, so they elected me as class poet." During high school in Cleveland, Ohio, he wrote for the school newspaper, edited the yearbook, and began to write his first short stories, poetry, and dramatic plays. His first piece of jazz poetry, When Sue Wears Red, was written while he was still in high school. It was during this time that he discovered his love of books. From this early period in his life, Hughes would cite as influences on his poetry the American poets Paul Laurence Dunbar and Carl Sandburg.
Relationship with father and Columbia
Langston Hughes, photographed by Nickolas Muray, 1923Hughes spent a brief period of time with his father in Mexico in 1919. The relationship between Langston and his father was troubled, causing Hughes a degree of dissatisfaction that led him to contemplate suicide at least once. Upon graduating from high school in June of 1920, Hughes returned to live with his father, hoping to convince him to provide money to attend Columbia University. Hughes later said that, prior to arriving in Mexico again:
“ I had been thinking about my father and his strange dislike of his own people. I didn`t understand it, because I was a Negro, and I liked Negroes very much. ”
Initially, his father had hoped for Hughes to attend a university abroad, and to study for a career in engineering. On these grounds, he was willing to provide financial assistance to his son. James Hughes did not support his son`s desire to be a writer. Eventually, Langston and his father came to a compromise. Langston would study engineering, so long as he could attend Columbia. His tuition provided, Hughes left his father after more than a year of living with him. While at Columbia in 1921, Hughes managed to maintain a B+ grade average. He left in 1922 because of racial prejudice within the institution, and his interests revolved more around the neighborhood of Harlem than his studies, though he continued writing poetry.
Langston Hughes, Lincoln University, photograph Yale University Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript LibraryHughes worked various odd jobs, before serving a brief tenure as a crewman aboard the S.S. Malone in 1923, spending six months traveling to West Africa and Europe. In Europe, Hughes left the S.S. Malone for a temporary stay in Paris.
Unlike specific writers of the post-World War I era who became identified as the "Lost Generation", such as Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hughes instead spent time in Paris during the early 1920s, becoming part of the black expatriate community. In November 1924, Hughes returned to the U. S. to live with his mother in Washington, D.C. Hughes again found work doing various odd jobs before gaining white-collar employment in 1925 as a personal assistant to the scholar Carter G. Woodson within the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. Not satisfied with the demands of the work and time constraints this position placed on the hours he spent writing, Hughes quit this job for one as a busboy in a hotel. It was while working as a busboy that Hughes would encounter the poet Vachel Lindsay. Impressed with the poems Hughes showed him, Lindsay publicized his discovery of a new black poet, though by this time, Hughes` earlier work had already been published in magazines and was about to be collected into his first book of po
BA , Literature, Lincoln University, PA, Howard University, Washington DC
Full Name at Birth
James Mercer Langston Hughes
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Poet, columnist, dramatist, essayist, lyricist, novelist
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