The Life and Legacy of Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist from Joplin, Missouri who was a driving force in the Harlem Renaissance. Learn more about his life & legacy.

The Life and Legacy of Langston Hughes

James Mercer Langston Hughes was born on February 1, 1901 in Joplin, Missouri. He was an American author, poet, and social activist who was a driving force in the Harlem Renaissance, a flourishing of African American culture in the 1920s. In high school, Hughes was inspired by the works of poet Carl Sandburg (1878-1896) and began writing poetry and developing his own unique style. He sent his work to magazines but all were rejected.

In 1924, Hughes moved to Washington, D. C. to live with his mother. He worked as a hotel waiter but earned very little money and experienced racial tensions in the nation's capital.

Despite this, he was able to write a lot of poems. His poem The Weary Blues won first prize in 1925 in a literary contest sponsored by Opportunity magazine. That same year, two more of his works won prizes in the Crisis literary contest. Carl Van Vechten, a novelist and critic, organized the publication of Hughes' first volume of poetry, The Weary Blues, in 1926. Hughes' writing style was modern and free-form with vivid images and jazz-influenced rhythms about everyday African American experience in the United States.

He wrote poetry, fiction, theater and film scripts. Although he reportedly had several affairs with women during his lifetime, he never married or had children. Hughes' grandmother Mary Patterson Leary instilled in him a lasting sense of racial pride. In 1931, he co-founded Golden Stair Press with Prentiss Taylor which published portfolios and books with works of art by Taylor and texts by Hughes. The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes was published in 1994 and he began publishing books for children regularly in the 1950s. Langston Hughes set a tone of brotherhood, friendship and cooperation that all must follow.

His legacy lives on through his works which continue to inspire people around the world.

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