The Life and Legacy of Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes was an African-American writer & thinker who sparked a revolution with his pen. Learn more about his life & legacy here.

The Life and Legacy of Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes was a singular voice in American poetry, who wrote with vivid images and jazz-influenced rhythms about the daily experience of blacks in the United States. He was a famous African-American writer and thinker who sparked a revolution, not through picketing and marching, but with a pen. His collected poems, edited by Arnold Rampersad and David Roessel, appeared in 1994. He is best known for his modern, free-form poetry with a superficial simplicity that masks deeper symbolism, but he also worked in fiction, theater and film. Langston Hughes was born on February 1, 1902 in Joplin, Missouri to parents Caroline (Carrie) Mercer Langston, a school teacher, and James Nathaniel Hughes, a lawyer.

His father wanted him to pursue a degree in mining engineering, but Langston decided that this was not his path in life and abandoned it after a year. He moved to New York City, New York and enrolled at Columbia University. When his mother and brother followed his stepfather, who occasionally left the family in search of higher salaries, Langston stayed in Cleveland to finish high school. After the death of Mary Langston, Hughes moved to Lincoln, Illinois to live with her mother and her new husband.

Langston Hughes is recognized as an innovator of jazz poetry, imitating the flow and rhythm of jazz music. He is known for his contributions to a literary movement known as the Harlem Renaissance. He was also a competent journalist. While he reportedly had several affairs with women during his lifetime, he never married or had children.

Theories abound about his sexual orientation; many believe that Hughes planted clues about his homosexuality throughout his poems (something that Walt Whitman, one of his key influences, knew how to do in his own work). However, there is no open evidence to support this, and some argue that Hughes was, if anything, asexual and disinterested in sex. When asked about his family history, Langston Hughes clarified that it was brown rather than black. He has been called the people's poet for his portrayals of black culture and everyday life. On May 22nd 1967, Langston Hughes died from complications from prostate cancer in New York City. As a tribute to his poetry, his funeral contained little spoken praise but was filled with jazz and blues music.

In its report, the New York City Preservation Commission has granted its residence at number 20 East 127th Street in Harlem a historic site; East 127th Street has been renamed Langston Hughes Place.

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