The Life and Legacy of Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes was an influential African American poet who left behind an incredible legacy. Learn more about his life & work here.

The Life and Legacy of Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes was a renowned poet, novelist, playwright, and columnist who was born on February 1, 1901 in Joplin, Missouri. He was a central figure in the Harlem Renaissance, a flourishing of African-American intellectual, literary and artistic life that took place in the 1920s in several American cities. Growing up in a series of Midwestern cities, Hughes became a prolific writer at a young age. He moved to New York City when he was young, where he made his career.

He graduated from high school in Cleveland, Ohio, and soon began his studies at Columbia University in New York City. Although he retired, he became known in publishers in New York, first in The Crisis magazine and then in book publishers, and became known in the creative community of Harlem. He finally graduated from the University of Lincoln. 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. His work was greatly influential to the civil rights movement and he was an icon for African-Americans. Hughes was born to James Mercer Langston Hughes and Mary Patterson Langston. His father left the United States for Mexico shortly after Langston was born and his mother remarried an elite and politically active member of the Langston family. Mary Langston instilled in her grandson a lasting sense of racial pride. The Pittsburgh Courier published a great headline at the top of the page, LANGSTON HUGHES'S BOOK OF TRASH POEMS.

With a professional career that spanned from the 1920s to the 1960s, Langston Hughes was one of the best-known African-American writers of the 20th century. He set a tone, a standard of brotherhood, friendship and cooperation that we must all follow. Hughes published his first book of poetry in 1926 called The Weary Blues. This book established him as an important literary figure and earned him national recognition. In 1932 he published his first children's book called Popo and Fifina which was designed to inculcate a sense of pride and respect for the cultural achievements of African Americans in their youth. In Looking for Langston (198), British filmmaker Isaac Julien stated that he was a black gay icon.

Julien thought that Hughes' sexuality had been historically ignored or minimized. 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 the life of Hughes. Langston Hughes was an influential figure who left behind an incredible legacy. His work continues to be celebrated today as an important part of American literature.

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