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Langston Hughes - A Brief History

by Allen L. Taylor

Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri in 1902 but was raised primarily by his grandmother, Mary Langston, after his parents separated. When not living with his grandmother, he traveled with his mother from town to town and lived in such places as Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Indiana and New York. He also lived part of the time with his grandmother, Mary Langston.

While living in Cleveland, Ohio in his early teenage years, Langston Hughes discovered the poetry of Carl Sandburg, who would become an influence. He was also influenced by Walt Whitman, Paul Lawrence Dunbar and Claude McKay. He so grew in stature as a poet that his eighth grade class elected him as the class poet.

He moved to Mexico after high school and wrote "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," one of his most famous poems, in 1921. He then enrolled in Columbia University, but soon abandoned his studies in lieu of jazz and blues in Harlem. This was when he earned his reputation as a respected and gifted young African-American poet.

In 1926 Langston Hughes published his first book of poetry, The Weary Blues.

In the early 1930's, Hughes traveled to the Soviet Union, Japan and Haiti. During this trip he had an affair with an Oriental ballerina and penned "Goodbye, Christ," a poem that would draw the ire of a Christian fundamentalist group in the 1940's. After many travels he returned to Harlem to make it his home.

Langston Hughes became an influential and controversial figure and wrote about race relations often, sometimes very provocatively. In 1942 he started a newspaper column featuring a fictional character by the name of Jesse B. Semple. It ran for 20 years.

He wrote one of his most famous poems, "Harlem", in 1951, around the time that his communist leanings would draw attention from the mainstream press and political personalities. Ten years later he published "Black Nativity" which sparked controversy. To this day, however, many African-American churches put a performance of this play on in their churches. He died in 1967. Many people refer to Langston Hughes as the black poet laureate due to his influence on African-American literature and particularly the Harlem Renaissance.

Allen Taylor has been writing poetry for 20 years and has been published in a variety of journals online and in print. He is the webmaster of World Class Poetry at and writes the daily blog at For more information on Langston Hughes and other famous poets, visit the World Class Poetry Hall of Fame.

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