- Hughes, (James Mercer) Langston
- (1902-1967)Prolific black poet and writer, Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri, raised in Lawrence, Kansas, and later moved to Lincoln, Illinois, and then Cleveland, Ohio, where he went to high school. He entered Columbia University in 1921 but left to find work as a merchant seaman in 1922. After a brief stay in Paris, he returned to the United States in 1924. His first significant poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” was published in 1921. In 1925, “The Weary Blues” won first prize in Opportunity magazine’s literary contest. His collection The Weary Blues was published to some acclaim in 1926. He entered Lincoln University in 1926 and graduated in 1929.An established part of the Harlem Renaissance, in 1927 Hughes published Fine Clothes for the Jew and began his relationship with Charlotte Mason, a wealthy, elderly white widow who was his patron for the next three years. His first novel, Not without Laughter, was published in 1930 and won the Harmon Gold Medal for Literature. During the 1930s, Hughes visited Cuba, Haiti, and the Soviet Union, and the communist influence was apparent in some of his writing of the period. His collection of short stores, The Ways of White Folks, was well received when it was published in 1934. He also wrote several plays, including Mulatto, which opened on Broadway in 1935. Hughes continued to travel and was a reporter during the Spanish Civil War in 1937, and Paris in 1938. His autobiography, The Big Sea, appeared in 1940, and in 1942 another volume of poetry, Shakespeare in Harlem, was published. During the 1940s, he began to publish his popular Jesse B. Semple stories in newspapers (they were later produced in edited collections in the 1950s) and continued to write poetry and plays. His musical Street Scene was a financial success on Broadway in 1947, and the opera The Barrier, written with Jan Meyerowitz, was produced with mixed success in 1950. More poetry appeared in Montage of a Dream Deferred in 1951, and Fight for Freedom, the history of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was published in 1962. Hughes also wrote several other works of nonfiction and numerous children’s stories. He is regarded as one of the most significant black writers of the 20th century. Despite this, his work was often criticized by African American intellectuals because of its use of the folk, blues idiom and his honest portrayals of ordinary black life. His left-wing political sympathies led to investigations by the House Un-American Activities Committee and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. His work won various prizes and awards, and in 1966 he toured various African countries for the State Department.
Historical Dictionary of the Roosevelt–Truman Era . Neil A. Wynn . 2015.