James Mercer Langston Hughes was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist from Joplin, Missouri. He was an early innovator of the literary art form called jazz poetry and is best known as the leader of the Harlem Renaissance. He was born on February 1, 1901 and passed away on May 22, 1962. Hughes had a complex ancestry. Both of his paternal great-grandmothers were enslaved Africans, and his two paternal great-grandparents owned white slaves in Kentucky.
His maternal grandmother, Mary Patterson, was of African-American, French, English, and Native American descent. In high school, Hughes learned about the works of the poet Carl Sandburg (1878-1896), another poet from the Midwest. At this time, he began writing poetry and developing his unique style. He began to send his work to magazines but all of them were rejected.
Later, in 1924, Hughes went to live with his mother in Washington D. C., where he wrote a lot of poems. The Weary Blues won first prize in 1925 in a literary contest sponsored by Opportunity magazine. In addition to poetry, Hughes wrote plays and short stories. He also published several non-fiction works.
From 1942 to 1962, as the civil rights movement gained strength, he wrote an exhaustive weekly column in a major black newspaper, The Chicago Defender. He also contributed the lyrics to Uhuru Afrika (Roulette, 1960) by Randy Weston. Hughes' life has been portrayed in film and theater productions since the late 20th century. Film portrayals of Hughes include the role of Gary LeRoi Gray as a teenage Hughes in the short film Salvation (200) (based on part of his autobiography The Big Sea), and Daniel Sunjata as Hughes in The Brother to Brother (200).On the day he died from complications from prostate cancer, his funeral contained little spoken praise but was filled with jazz and blues music. His legacy lives on in his collection of literary works. The Beinecke Library of Rare Books and Manuscripts at Yale University contains the Langston Hughes documents (1862-1980) and the Langston Hughes Collection (1924-196), which contain letters, manuscripts, personal items, photographs, clippings, works of art and objects that document Hughes's life.