An Introduction to the Life of Langston Hughes One of the Best Black Poets of His Time

Categories: Biography


Langston Hughes was one of the best black poets of his time. ILangston Hughes earned critical attention for his portrayal of realistic black characters and he became one the dominant voices speaking out on issues concerning black culture.I ( Kuntiz 1956) He is surely better known and more widely read than any other black poet.

I. Early Life

James Langston Hughes was born on February 1, 1903 in Joplin, Mo.1 (Osofsky 1996). His grandmother raised him until he was twelve. His parents where separated.

Carrie Hughes his mother was a stenographer of a colored lawyer in Topeka, Kansas. His parents decided to get remarried when Langston was six. The reason that his parents separated the first time was because Langstonls dad wanted to go away to another county where a colored man could get ahead in life. When Langston was in second grade his grandmother took him to Lawrence, Kansas to raise him. He was unhappy and lonesome living with his grandma.

II. Mary Langston Grandmother

She was a very proud woman and she didnit beg or borrow anything from anybody.

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She was born free in North Carolina, because she was part Cherokee. She was also very proud because she had been one of the first black women to attend Oberlin college and she was also proud that she had never been a slave. (Osofsky 1996) She looked like and Indian with a copper colored skin and long black hair. She took Langston to Osawatomie where she was honored by Teddy Roosevelt. She was honored because she was the last surviving widow of the John Brownis raid.

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She died when Langston was twelve.

III. The Reeds


The Reeds where friends of Langstonis grandma that took him in when his grandmother died. The Reeds had a little house a block from the Kaw River near the railroad station. Langston Hughes said that Ifor him there have never been any better people in the world.(Hughes 1993) Langston loved the Reeds very much. In the spring Langston Hughes delivered papers and sold the Saturday Evening Post. When Langston was in the seventh grade he got his first real job cleaning up the lobby and toilets of and old hotel near the school he attended.

IV. Living With Carrie Hughes

His mom was living in Lincoln, Illionis. Langston Hughes was fourteen when he went to live with his mom. Carrie Hughes had remarried to a chef named Homer Clark. Langston had finally gotten his wish, he now had a little brother and he liked his step-father a lot. When Langston graduated from grammar school his step father didn’t get to see him graduate. He was elected class poet. The reason that he was elected was that white people think that all Negroes can sing and dance and have a sense of rhythm. So his classmates knowing that a poem has rhythm they elected him unanimously thinking no doubt that Langston had some rhythm because he was a Negro. His first poem was the longest poem he every written which was later cut down. That is really the he began to write poetry, it never occurred to him to become a poet or a writer of any kind. His mother had often read poems and the Inter-State Literary Society founded by Langstonis grandfather. Carrie also wrote original poems that she also read at the society.

The only poems that Langston liked as a child was Paul Lawrence Dunbaris and Hiawatha. (Hughes 1993) He thought the Riders of the purple sage was the best book that he ever read.( Hughes 1994) Langston believed in books more than he believed in people which was wrong. That’s why when he was on his voyage to Africa he threw all of his books overboard into the sea.

V. Central High Langstonls High School


As soon as he graduated from grammar school in Lincoln, IL he moved to Cleveland, OH because his step father had sent for them, his mother and Kit his little brother. While he went to Central High he wrote poems for a magazine called the Belfry Owl. (Hughes 1994) The first poems that Langston tried to write like was little Negro dialect poems like Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s and Carl Sandburg. Langston Hughes wrote about love, and about the still mills, slums and woman from the south. ( Hughes 1994) One of his first high school poems was this.

Just because I loves you

That’s de reason why

My soul is full of color

Like de wings of a Butterfly

Just because I loves you

That’s de reason why

My heart’s a fluttering aspen leaf 

When you pass by (Hughes 1994)

Langston Hughes was fourteen when he wrote that poem. A poem that Langston wrote for Carl

Sandburg his guiding star. (Hughes 1994)

Carl Sandburg’s poems

Fall on the white pages of his books

Like blood clots of song

From the wounds of humanity

I know a lover of life sings

When Carl Sandburg Sings

I know a lover of all the life sing’s then

(Kuntiz 1955)


Langston held many club offices while he was in high school this is because when there was a religious problem a Negro would win the election. He was on the track team which for two seasons won the city wide champion ships. He was a lieutenant in the military training corps and twice he was on the honor roll for scholarships. He went to his first symphony concert with a Jewish girl because foreign born children where more anti-Negro. The things he learned from Central High was the only way to get something done was to start it and keep doing it until it was done, he also learned that powerful words can come from a child’s mouth. (Hughes 1994)

VI. Living in Chicago 

Langston joined his mother in Chicago on summer. His parents where separated again and Carrie was working as a cook for a lady who owned a millinery shop in the loop it was a very fashionable shop. He was a delivery boy for this shop. Langston was beaten up by a group of white boys the first Sunday he was in Chicago because he wandered to far out of the Negro District.

VII. Last Year At Cleveland High

Langston managed to save some money and went back to Cleveland to finish his last year at high school so he left his mom back in Chicago. He had to eat hot dogs and rice every day because he didn’t have enough money to eat in a restaurant. The person that him really write about Negroes was De Maupassant. (Osofsky 1996) He didn’t dare write stories because poems came to him so quick. At first he was scared to show his poems because they were very serious and very much a part of him. He sent these poems to a few magazines the magazines rejected him but on editor from a magazine wrote in a letter to Langston Liberator which encouraged Langston Hughes.

VIII. Living with James N. Hughes

Langston hasn’t seen his father in eleven years. One day a letter came saying that he wanted him to go back to Mexico with him. This letter made his mom very angry. His mom described his


dad as a devil on wheels. (Hughes 1994) Langston was anxious to see his father but then something happened they moved from Cleveland. His father sent him a wire to be ready to leave at ten forty-five p.m. The landlady found the wire the next day. Langston heart stopped his father had gone to Mexico without him. While he was walking down the street he saw a little bronze man with a mustache coming up the sidewalk. They looked closely at each other and it was James Hughes. Langston said his father was different from any one he ever known because he was only interested in making money. ( Hart 1966) James Hughes had legal training in the south but couldn’t be admitted to a bar there. In Mexico he was admitted to a bar and practiced law. James Hughes had a big ranch in the hills. Langston’s father also hated Negro’s and that made Langston think that his dad hated himself for being a Negro. James Hughes also thought that people were poor because of their own fault and he also thought that greasers and niggers would never get anywhere because they were to religious and always praying. As the weeks went by Langston had less and less to say to his father. Langston began to wish that he had never been born when he was living with his father. Langston was alone in his father’s house one day and Langston put a loaded gut to his head and held it there for a long time and wondered if he would be happier if he pulled the trigger. Langston found out when he was down in Mexico living with his father that Langston hated his dad. Langston had gotten sick while he was in Mexico and he went to the hospital where the doctor’s did a lot of tests on him. Langston didn’t dare tell the doctor’s the reason he was sick because he hated his father. Once Langston found out it was costing his dad twenty dollars a day for Langston to stay in the hospital Langston made no effort to get better. Langston left Mexico and about three weeks Langston received a letter from his father saying that his dad was going to pay for his college education. The best poems that Langston Hughes wrote was when he was feeling bad. He wrote The Negro Speaks of Rives on the outside of St. Louis and this poem is one of the most reprinted of his poems.

(Hughes 1993)

I’ve known rivers:

I’v known rivers ancient as the world and older than the


flow of human blood

My soul has grown deep like the rivers

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young

I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep

I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it

I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln

went down to New Orleans, and live seen its muddy

bosom turn all golden in the sunset

live known of two rivers

Ancient, dusky rivers

My soul has grown deep like the rivers. ( Shepherd 1996)

IX. Mexico Again

Langston went back to Mexico and his dad told him that he wanted Langston to go to Switzerland and Germany to study mining and engineering and then when he was done studying he would come back to Mexico and work. When Langston’s dad told him that he about fell off his horse. Langston told his dad that he wanted to be a writer and his dad said do they make any money. James Hughes ordered his son to stay in Mexico until he decided to act wisely. Langston taught English in private schools and was saving his money until he had enough to leave. The poem The Negro Speaks of Rivers was published in an adult magazine the Crisis. ( Hart 1996) His father finally gave up his demands and offered to pay for any college of his choice. That long year in Mexico Langston heart had been leading him to Harlem the black Mecca he had heard and read about. The toe tapping beat of Harlem Renaissance called to him be a part of us.(Osofsky 1996) He mostly long to be with his own people.

X. Columbia University


He boarded a train haply and said goodbye to his father and would never see him again. When Langston stepped off the subway he saw hundreds of black people and Langston took a deep breath and smiled. However Columbia University mad him fell unwelcome. There was a mix up and Langston finally got a room in Hartly Hall. Langston said Columbia wasn’t like high school he said it was cold and impersonal like a big factory. To make matters worse Carrie had moved to New York and she had separated form Homer Clark again. Langston saved money by borrowing textbooks form the Library. Langston skipped classes because he was depressed. Instead of studying he read books and went to lectures. Langston private life as a poet was soon to end and a change of address on his magazine subscription alerted the editors of the Crisis that their mystery poet from Mexico was now in Columbia. When they invited him to lunch Langston was panic stricken. At this luncheon he meant one of his heroes W.E.B. Dubois. Langston sent more of his poems to Crisis and its manager arranged for Langston’s first public reading of his poems. It was the beginning of a lifetime of readings. His father had a stroke at the end of Langston’s school year and was paralyzed. Not wanting to waste his father’s money Langston wrote him a letter telling him to send no more. With only thirteen dollars he started chasing his dream of being a writer.

XI. Langston Travels

Langston found a job on a freighter as a mess boy. As soon as he found out that the boat wasn’t leaving the port he quit. Langston published a few more poems in the Crisis and he worked all winter on a poem about a piano player he heard in Harlem. He found a freighter bound for Africa and Langston quickly signed on as a mess boy. June 13, 1923 the West Hesseltine sailed into the open sea with its engines throbbing as it surged through the swells toward Africa. (Jackson 1997) When Langston was in Africa he was laughed at because of his skin color. Langston began to wonder where he belonged. Langston bought his step-brother Kit a monkey from Africa. The hole crew was fired when the ship arrived back in New York. When Langston left home again Carrie sold the monkey to a pet shop. Langston was on his way to Paris. Langston went to Paris with only


seven dollars in his pocket. While he was in Paris Langston worked as a bouncer. Langston had another job at a night club this time washing dishes and after the club had closed Langston got to hear some of the best jazz and blues bands Paris had to offer. Langston wrote poems trying to catch the jazz spirit and rhythm. In America Langston’s reputation was growing a bit but his income wasn’t. Langston was on his way back to America when he fell asleep on a train and his money and passport’s where stolen. Langston also found out that the magazine the Crisis had sent him twenty dollars while Langston was in Genoa. When Langston got back to Harlem they welcomed him like a hero. Langston discovered that his poems made him a name in black literary circles. Countee Cullen had said that Langston was squeezing life like a lemon. ( Shepherd 1996) When Langston arrived back to America he found out that his mother was separated from his step-father again this time she said it was for good. Langston wanted to go to Howard University because his great uncle John Mercer Langston had been the first dean of its law school in 1869. (Jackson 1997) His request for a scholarship was turned down. Langston didn’t have enough money for an overcoat for when he walked to his job on cold mornings. Carrie Hughes told him that he was wasting his time writing poetry. The poem Weary Blues won first prize in a Poetry Contes in May 1925. (Osofsky 1996) From a ship going no where Langston produced this poem which Langston called it his lucky poem..

XII. College Again

Langston went to Lincoln University. Langston took part in a lot of school activities. He joined a fraternity and dumped water out on students who were dressed up for a date. As a junior Langston joined the Sportsman Club and Langston help steal and organ to liven up their meetings with music.(Osofsky 1996) Facing the problems of black writers Langston was inspired to write a powerful essay The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain published in the Nation in June 1926. ( Osofsky 1996) In June 1929 Langston graduated from college and Langston struggled to finish his novel Not Without Laughter which won the Harmon Gold Award for distinguished Black


Literature. (Osofsky 1996) The awards prize was four-hundred dollars it was the most money Langston has ever received for his writings. Langston was encouraged by a person of the name of Bethune to go down south and read his poems. She was very preserve. Langston was determined so he wrote all the black colleges saying that he would read his poems for a fee. He toured for five months down dusty roads, past hotels and restaurants posting Whites Only. North Carolina University was the only white school on the tour. At every opportunity Langston spoke out against the injustice. Thousands of students heard him in every state in the south and Langston learned that poetry can mean something to the uneducated people. Langston sometimes read poems to a jazz or blues background. In the 1920s  he read with Fats Walluat at the piano in Harlem, Langston also read poetry with a saxaphone and piano at college. (Osofsky 1996) Langston read poetry on television in the 50s backed by jazz pianist Billy Taylor. In 1960 he read poems set to blues at the Newport Jazz Festival which he was a director. The poem that he ended his reading with is

I, too sing America

I am the darker brother

They send me to eat in a the Kitchen

When company comes

But I laugh

And Eat Well

And grow Strong (Hughes 1993)

While Langston was in Madrid he was in the mist of World War I and Langston got nicked with a sniper bullet on his arm. Also while he was in Madrid Langston wrote about a little girl playing scales on a piano. During his five month stay in Spain Langston wrote articles for the Volunteer for Liberty. Inspired by the idealism of those who fought in the International Brigades and heroism of Spanish people Langston wrote poem about the human spirit yearning to be free the dream of people everywhere.

I dream a world where a man


No other man will scorn

Where love will bless the earth

And peace it path adorn.

I dream a world where all

Will know sweet freedoms way

Of such I dream

Our world

(Hughes 1994)

XIII. Langston’s Last Years

Langston Learned that his mother was dying and he brought her form Ohio to live with him. Carrie died on June 3, 1938 on this day Langston kept his feelings to himself. During World War II Langston fought for freedom which his determined to fight on two fronts: against enimies abroad and against racism at home. Langston gave rousing speeches against segregation in the armed forces. When Langston turned forty-one Homesick Blues was his song. In 1943 he met a man who inspired him to crate the character of Jessie B. Simple (Rampersad and Roessel 1995) Langston worked so hard because he needed the money. His books didn’t sell that many copies and the theater gave him more problems that profits. March 1953 Langston appeared before Senator Joseph McCarthy’s permanent sub committee of Investigations. Langston testified that he had never been a member of the Communist party. Langston told a friend that he couldn’t be a member of this part because he had to be free to write what was true for him without taking orders from anyone. (Jackson 1995) Langston wasn’t charged with anything but it caused a lot of damage. Langston stoped writing about simple in his newspaper column. He felt that Simple’s humor could no longer speak for the blacks. It was time to pass on Lewis Leary’s freedom shawl to the younger generation.

XIV. Accomplishments


At the age of fifty-eight Langston Hughes was awarded the honor that meant the most to him the Spingain Medal given by the Nation Association for the Advancement of colored people. (Shepherd 1996) Langston was the first to tour on the white lecture circuit. The second black to be elected to the National Institute of Arts and letters. Langston published forty-six books, edited eight others and wrote over twenty theatrical works and scores of son lyrics. Night came to Langston Hughes on May 22, 1967 he died of cancer in a New York City hospital alone. ( Bran 1981) Langston Hughes residence at 20 east 127th Street in Harlem, NY has been given land mark status by the New York Preservation Commission. Langston Hughes block of East 127th Street was renamed  Langston Hughes Place. Langston beloved blues and jazz were played at his funeral to celebrate his memory for his words would keep the dream alive.



  1. Bran, Leon L. Funk & Wagnall New Encylopedia. New York: Rand McNally and Company, 1981
  2. Hart, James D. American Literature. New York: Oxford University press, 1966
  3. Hughes, Langston. An Autobiography: The Big Sea. Canada: Harper’s Collins, 1994
  4. Hughes, Langston. An Autobiography: I wonder As I Wonder. Canada: Haper’s Collins, 1993
  5. Jackson, Andrew P. James Langston Hughes. 1997.
  6. (22 Feb 1998)
  7. Kuntiz, Stanley. Twentieth Century Authors. New York: H.W. Wilson Company, 1955
  8. Kuntiz, Stanley. Twentieth Century Authors. New York: H.W.Wilson Company, 1956
  9. Rampersad, Arnold & Roessel, David. The Collected poem of Langston Hughes. The Boston
  10. Book Review. Hughes.html
  11. Shepherd, Robert D. Literature and Lanuage Arts. Minnesota: Emc/Paradign Publishing, 1996



I. Early Life

II. Mary Langston Grandmother

III. The Reeds

IV. Living With Carrie Hughes

V. Central High Langston’s High School

VI. Living In Chicago

VII. Last Year At Cleveland Hig School

VIII. Living with James N. Hughes

XI. Mexico Again

X. Columbia University

XII. Langston Travels

XII. College Again

XIII. Langstons last years

XIV. Accomplishments

Cite this page

An Introduction to the Life of Langston Hughes One of the Best Black Poets of His Time. (2021, Oct 07). Retrieved from

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