LANGSTON HUGHES Biography - Famous Poets and dancers


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Name: Langston Hughes                                                                       
Born: 1 February 1902 Joplin, Missouri, United States                                       
Died: 22 May 1967 New York, New York, United States                                         
Langston Hughes (February 1, 1902 - May 22, 1967) was an American poet, novelist,           
playwright, short story writer, and columnist. Hughes is known for his work                 
during the Harlem Renaissance.                                                             
The son of Carrie Langston Hughes (a teacher) and her husband, James Nathaniel             
Hughes, Langston Hughes was born James Mercer Langston Hughes in Joplin,                   
Missouri. After abandoning his family and the later legal dissolution of the               
marriage, James Hughes left for Cuba, then Mexico, as a consequence of the                 
enduring racism in the United States. After the separation of his parents,                 
young Langston was raised mainly by his grandmother, Mary Langston, as his                 
mother sought employment. Through the black American oral tradition of                     
storytelling, she would instill in the young Langston Hughes a sense of lasting             
racial pride. He spent most of childhood in Lawrence, Kansas. After the                     
death of his grandmother, he went to live with family friends, James and Mary               
Reed, for two years. Due to an unstable early life, his childhood was not an               
entirely happy one, but it was one that heavily influenced the poet he would               
become. Later, he lived again with his mother in Lincoln, Illinois, who had                 
remarried when he was still an adolescent, and eventually in Cleveland, Ohio,               
where he attended high school.                                                             
While in grammar school in Lincoln, Illinois, he was designated class poet.                 
Hughes stated in retrospect that this was because of the stereotype that African           
Americans have rhythm. "I was a victim of a stereotype. There were only two                 
of us Negro kids in the whole class and our English teacher was always stressing           
the importance of rhythm in poetry. Well, everyone knows — except us — that all         
Negroes have rhythm, so they elected me as class poet." During high school in               
Cleveland, Ohio, he wrote for the school newspaper, edited the yearbook, and               
began to write his first short stories, poetry, and dramatic plays. His first               
piece of jazz poetry, When Sue Wears Red, was written while he was still in high           
school. It was during this time that he discovered his love of books. From this             
early period in his life, Hughes would cite as influences on his poetry the                 
American poets Paul Laurence Dunbar and Carl Sandburg.                                     
Hughes spent a brief period of time with his father in Mexico in 1919. The                 
relationship between Langston and his father was troubled, causing Hughes a                 
degree of dissatisfaction that led him to contemplate suicide at least once.               
Upon graduating from high school in June of 1920, Hughes returned to live with             
his father, hoping to convince him to provide money to attend Columbia                     
University. Hughes later said that, prior to arriving in Mexico again:                     
“ I had been thinking about my father and his strange dislike of his own people.         
I didn't understand it, because I was a Negro, and I liked Negroes very much.               
Initially, his father had hoped for Hughes to attend a university abroad, and to           
study for a career in engineering. On these grounds, he was willing to provide             
financial assistance to his son. James Hughes did not support his son's desire             
to be a writer. Eventually, Langston and his father came to a compromise.                   
Langston would study engineering, so long as he could attend Columbia. His                 
tuition provided, Hughes left his father after more than a year of living with             
him. While at Columbia in 1921, Hughes managed to maintain a B+ grade average.             
He left in 1922 because of racial prejudice within the institution, and his                 
interests revolved more around the neighborhood of Harlem than his studies,                 
though he continued writing poetry.                                                         
Hughes worked various odd jobs, before serving a brief tenure as a crewman                 
aboard the S.S. Malone in 1923, spending six months traveling to West Africa and           
Europe. In Europe, Hughes left the S.S. Malone for a temporary stay in Paris.               
Unlike specific writers of the post-World War I era who became identified as the           
"Lost Generation", such as Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hughes                 
instead spent time in Paris during the early 1920s, becoming part of the black             
expatriate community. In November 1924, Hughes returned to the U. S. to live               
with his mother in Washington, D.C. Hughes again found work doing various odd               
jobs before gaining white-collar employment in 1925 as a personal assistant to             
the scholar Carter G. Woodson within the Association for the Study of African               
American Life and History. Not satisfied with the demands of the work and time             
constraints this position placed on the hours he spent writing, Hughes quit this           
job for one as a busboy in a hotel. It was while working as a busboy that Hughes           
would encounter the poet Vachel Lindsay. Impressed with the poems Hughes showed             
him, Lindsay publicized his discovery of a new black poet, though by this time,             
Hughes' earlier work had already been published in magazines and was about to be           
collected into his first book of poetry.                                                   
The following year, Hughes enrolled in Lincoln University, a HBCU in Chester               
County, Pennsylvania, where he became a member of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity,             
the first black fraternal organization founded at a historically black college             
and university. Thurgood Marshall, who later became an Associate Justice                   
of the Supreme Court of the United States, was an alumnus and classmate of                 
Langston Hughes during his undergraduate studies at Lincoln University.                     
Hughes received a B.A. degree from Lincoln University in 1929 and a Litt.D. in             
1943 from Lincoln. A second honorary doctorate would be awarded to him in 1963             
by Howard University, another HBCU. Except for travels that included parts of               
the Caribbean and West Indies, Harlem was Hughes’s primary home for the                   
remainder of his life.                                                                     
Academics and biographers today acknowledge that Hughes was a homosexual and               
included homosexual codes in many of his poems, similar in manner to Walt                   
Whitman, whose work Hughes cited as another influence on his poetry, and most               
patently in the short story Blessed Assurance which deals with a father's anger             
over his son's effeminacy and queerness. It has                                             
been noted that to retain the respect and support of black churches and                     
organizations and avoid exacerbating his precarious financial situation, Hughes             
remained closeted. Arnold Rampersad, the primary biographer of Hughes,                     
determined that Hughes exhibited a preference for other African American men in             
his work and life. This love of black men is evidenced in a number of                       
reported unpublished poems to a black male lover.                                           
On May 22, 1967, Hughes died from complications after abdominal surgery, related           
to prostate cancer, at the age of 65. His ashes are interred beneath a floor               
medallion in the middle of the foyer leading to the auditorium named for him               
within the Arthur Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem.                 
The design on the floor covering his cremated remains is an African cosmogram               
titled Rivers. The title is taken from the poem The Negro Speaks of Rivers by               
Hughes. Within the center of the cosmogram and precisely above the ashes of                 
Hughes are the words My soul has grown deep like the rivers.                               
Many of Hughes' papers reside at his alma mater in the Langston Hughes Memorial             
Library on the campus of Lincoln University, PA, as well as at the James Weldon             
Johnson Collection within the Yale University Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript             
Library. In 1981, Landmark status was given to the Harlem home of Langston                 
Hughes at 20 East 127th Street by the New York City Landmarks Preservation                 
Commission and 127th St. was renamed Langston Hughes Place. On February 1,                 
2002, The United States Postal Service added the image of Langston Hughes to its           
Black Heritage series of postage stamps to commemorate both the centennial of               
Hughes' birth and the 25th anniversary of the Black Heritage series.