The Life and Legacy of Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes was an American author who expressed the mind and spirit of most African Americans for nearly half a century. Learn more about his life and legacy.

The Life and Legacy of Langston Hughes

American author Langston Hughes was a moving spirit in the 1920s art movement, often called the Harlem Renaissance. He expressed the mind and spirit of most African Americans for nearly half a century. Born in Joplin, Missouri, on February 1, 1902, to parents Caroline (Carrie) Mercer Langston, a school teacher, and James Nathaniel Hughes, a lawyer, he inherited African-American, European and even Indian roots. Hughes's grandmother raised him in Lawrence, Kansas, until he was 12 years old.

At this time, he began writing poetry and developing his unique style. He sent his work to magazines but all of them were rejected. Later, in 1924, Hughes went to live with his mother in Washington D. C.

He expected to earn enough money to go back to college but working as a hotel waiter paid very little. Despite this, he was able to write many poems. The Weary Blues won first prize in 1925 in a literary contest sponsored by Opportunity magazine published by the National Urban League. That summer, one of his essays and another poem won prizes in the Crisis literary contest.

Meanwhile, Hughes had caught the attention of Carl Van Vechten, a novelist and critic who organized the publication of Hughes' first volume of poetry The Weary Blues (1926). At the university, Langston earned fairly good grades but was forced to leave the establishment in 1922 due to the constant racism imposed on him. 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. His father did not share the desire for Hughes to become a writer but they managed to reach an agreement: Langston had to study engineering at Columbia University.

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 wrote poems, novels, plays, librettos, essays and translations that are still widely read today. His works include ProSeletters from Langston (University of California Press), 201 Selected Letters by Langston Hughes (Alfred A.). Langston Hughes left an indelible mark on American literature and culture with his unique style that combined jazz rhythms with poetic language.

His works continue to inspire generations of readers around the world.

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