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Harlem Renaissance writer
James Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri, on February 1, 1902. His parents divorced when he was a small child, and he was raised in Lawrence and Topeka, Kansas, by his grandmother until he was thirteen, when he moved to Lincoln, Illinois, to live with his mother and her husband; the family eventually settled in Cleveland, Ohio. After graduating from high school, he spent a year with his father in Mexico. He then spent a year at Columbia University. During these years he held odd jobs as an assistant cook, launderer, and busboy. He also traveled to Africa and Europe, working as a seaman. In November 1924, he moved to Washington, D.C.
Hughes began writing poetry while living in Illinois. While attending Central High School in Cleveland, Ohio, high school, he was designated "class poet." His first book of poetry, The Weary Blues, was published in 1926. He finished his college education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania three years later. In 1930, his first novel, Not Without Laughter, won the Harmon Gold Medal for Literature.
Throughout his literary career, Hughes was particularly known for his insightful, colorful portrayals of black life in America from the twenties through the sixties. Known as one of the leading writers of the Harlem Renaissance Movement of the twenties, Hughes wanted to tell the stories of his people in ways that reflected their actual culture, including both their suffering and their love of music, laughter, and language itself. He was also known for his engagement with the world of jazz and the influence it had on his writing, including his Montage of a Dream Deferred.
Langston Hughes died of complications from prostate cancer on May 22, 1967, in New York City. In his memory, his residence at 20 East 127th Street in Harlem has been given landmark status by the New York City Preservation Commission, and East 127th Street has been renamed "Langston Hughes Place."
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This page was last updated on 02/01/2019.