Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri, in 1902. His parents were divorced when
he was a small child and his father moved to Mexico. He was raised by his grandmother
until he was twelve, when he moved to Lincoln, Illinois, to live with his mother
and her husband. It was during his high school years that Hughes began writing
poetry. Following graduation, he spent a year in Mexico and a year at Columbia
University and travelled to Africa and Europe. He moved to Harlem, New York, in
November 1924. Hughes first book of poetry, The Weary Blues, was published
by Alfred A. Knopf in 1926. He finished his college education at Lincoln University
in Pennsylvania three years later.
Hughes, who claimed
Paul Lawrence Dunbar,
Carl Sandburg, and
Walt Whitman as his primary influences, is particularly known for his insightful,
colorful portrayals of black life in America from the twenties through the sixties.
He wrote novels, short stories and plays, as well as poetry, and is also known
for his engagement with the world of jazz and the influence it had on his writing,
as in "Montage of a Dream Deferred." His life and work were enormously
important in shaping the artistic contributions of the Harlem Renaissance of the
1920s. Unlike other notable black poets of the period (
Jean Toomer, and
Countee Cullen) Hughes refused to differentiate between his personal experience
and the common experience of black America. He wanted to tell the stories of his
people without personalizing them, so the reader could step in and draw his own
conclusions. Langston Hughes died in 1967.