Langston Hughes was an American author of the Harlem Renaissance, a flowering of African American culture in the Harlem community in New York City during the 1920s. He is best known for his poetry today, but he also wrote novels, short stories, plays, operas, two autobiographies, newspaper articles, and translations of literature into English. His poetry is often characterized as jazz poetry, as it mirrors the rhythms and quality of jazz music, another artistic form that flourished during the Harlem Renaissance.
Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri, on 1 February 1902. His parents, Carrie Langston Hughes and James Nathaniel Hughes, divorced when Langston was very young, and he spent the majority of his childhood at his grandmother's home in Lawrence, Kansas. When he was 13 years old, his grandmother died, and he moved in with family friends and later with his mother and stepfather in Lincoln, Illinois. Hughes' family moved a lot in search of work, and he ended up attending high school in Cleveland, Ohio.
The author's literary gifts began to emerge in his childhood, when he was designated "class poet" in elementary school. He began writing short stories, plays, poems, and pieces for the school newspaper in high school, and he was an avid reader.
Hughes paid a brief visit to his father, who had moved to Mexico shortly after the divorce, in 1919, the year before he graduated high school. After graduation, he lived with his father for a while, trying to persuade him to pay for tuition at Columbia University. Their relationship was strained, and he later wrote that his father had an intense self-hatred as a result of his race with which the young man could not identify. Though Hughes' father wanted him to attend university outside of the United States, he finally agreed to pay for his son's education at Columbia on the condition that he would study engineering.
Langston Hughes did well at Columbia, but left after the first year due to racial prejudice and his greater interest in the nearby community of Harlem and its art and music scene. He supported himself with various jobs during the early 1920s, and spent some time in Paris in 1923-24 following a six-month stint on a ship traveling to Europe and West Africa. After returning to Harlem, Hughes was discovered by poet Vachel Lindsay during his work as a hotel busboy. His first book of poetry, The Weary Blues, was published in 1926.
He continued to be a successful writer and an icon of the Harlem Renaissance throughout his life. Hughes attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, earning a bachelor's degree in 1929 and a doctor of Letters degree in 1943. He published his first novel, Not Without Laughter, in 1930, and a volume of short stories, The Ways of White Folk, in 1934. In addition to his literary work, Hughes founded theater troupes in Los Angeles and Chicago and spoke as a guest lecturer at several universities.
In his writing, Langston Hughes both celebrated the Black American experience and sought to portray it honestly. His poetry is often anthologized, and he is remembered as one of America's favorite and most influential poets. Hughes died of post-surgical complications on 22 May 1967. His ashes are interred in Harlem, beneath the floor of the foyer leading to the Langston Hughes Auditorium in the Arthur Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture.