logo logo

(James) Langston Hughes

In addition to leaving us a large body of poetic work, Hughes wrote eleven plays and countless works of prose, including the well-known “Simple” books: Simple Speaks His Mind, Simple Stakes a Claim,Simple Takes a Wife, and Simple's Uncle Sam. He edited the anthologies The Poetry of the Negro and The Book of Negro Folklore, wrote an acclaimed autobiography (The Big Sea) and co-wrote the play Mule Bone with Zora Neale Hurston.


  • James Langston Hughes was born February 1, 1902, in Joplin, Missouri. His parents divorced when he was a small child, and his father moved to Mexico. He was raised by his grandmother until he was thirteen, when he moved to Lincoln, Illinois, to live with his mother and her husband, before the family eventually settled in Cleveland, Ohio. It was in Lincoln, Illinois, that Hughes began writing poetry. In November 1924, he moved to Washington, D.C.

    Langston Hughes died of complications from prostate cancer in May 22, 1967, in New York. In his memory, his residence at 20 East 127th Street in Harlem, New York City, has been given landmark status by the New York City Preservation Commission, and East 127th Street has been renamed "Langston Hughes Place."

  • Education

    • Following graduation, he spent a year in Mexico and a year at Columbia University. During these years, he held odd jobs as an assistant cook, launderer, and a busboy, and travelled to Africa and Europe working as a seaman. He finished his college education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in 1929.


    • Hughes's first book of poetry, The Weary Blues, was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1926.

      In 1930 his first novel, Not Without Laughter, won the Harmon gold medal for literature.

      Hughes, who claimed Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Carl Sandburg, and Walt Whitman as his primary influences, is particularly known for his insightful, colorful portrayals of black life in America from the twenties through the sixties. He wrote novels, short stories and plays, as well as poetry, and is also known for his engagement with the world of jazz and the influence it had on his writing, as in "Montage of a Dream Deferred." His life and work were enormously important in shaping the artistic contributions of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. Unlike other notable black poets of the period—Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, and Countee Cullen—Hughes refused to differentiate between his personal experience and the common experience of black America. He 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.

    Major achievements

    • Novels and short story collections

      Not Without Laughter. Knopf, 1930

      The Ways of White Folks. Knopf, 1934

      Simple Speaks His Mind. 1950

      Laughing to Keep from Crying, Holt, 1952

      Simple Takes a Wife. 1953

      Sweet Flypaper of Life, photographs by Roy DeCarava. 1955

      Tambourines to Glory 1958

      The Best of Simple. 1961

      Simple's Uncle Sam. 1965

      Something in Common and Other Stories. Hill & Wang, 1963

      Short Stories of Langston Hughes. Hill & Wang, 1996

      Non-fiction books

      The Big Sea. New York: Knopf, 1940

      Famous American Negroes. 1954

      I Wonder as I Wander. New York: Rinehart & Company, 1956

      A Pictorial History of the Negro in America, with Milton Meltzer. 1956

      Famous Negro Heroes of America. 1958

      Fight for Freedom: The Story of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. 1962

      Major plays by Hughes

      Mule Bone, with Zora Neale Hurston. 1931

      Mulatto. 1935 (renamed The Barrier, an opera, in 1950)

      Troubled Island, with William Grant Still. 1936

      Little Ham. 1936

      Emperor of Haiti. 1936

      Don't You Want to be Free? 1938

      Street Scene, contributed lyrics. 1947

      Tambourines to glory. 1956

      Simply Heavenly. 1957

      Black Nativity. 1961

      Five Plays by Langston Hughes. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1963.

      Jericho-Jim Crow. 1964

      Works for children

      Popo and Fifina, with Arna Bontemps. 1932

      The First Book of the Negroes. 1952

      The First Book of Jazz. 1954

      Marian Anderson: Famous Concert Singer. with Steven C. Tracy 1954

      The First Book of Rhythms. 1954

      The First Book of the West Indies. 1956

      First Book of Africa. 1964

      Black Misery. Illustrated by Arouni. 1969, reprinted by Oxford University Press, 1994.


    • "The Negro Speaks of Rivers"
    • The Weary Blues
    • Fine Clothes to the Jew
    • The Negro Mother and Other Dramatic Recitations


    n 1932, Hughes became part of a group of black people who went to the Soviet Union to make a film depicting the plight of African Americans in the United States. The film was never made, but Hughes was given the opportunity to travel extensively through the Soviet Union and to the Soviet-controlled regions in Central Asia, the latter parts usually closed to Westerners. While there, he met African-American Robert Robinson, living in Moscow and unable to leave. In Turkmenistan, Hughes met and befriended the Hungarian polymath Arthur Koestler. Hughes also managed to travel to China and Japan before returning to the States.

    Party affiliation: Communist Party


    Hughes was a self-proclaimed theist after the US government questioned him about whether or not he was a communist. But his poem "Goodbye Christ" suggested that he was actually an atheist. Hughes later claimed that that poem's message had been misinterpretted.

    Denomination: Atheist



    (James) Langston Hughes
    See on larger map
    Born February 1, 1902
    Died May 22, 1967
    (aged 65)
    • 1921 - 1922
      the university of Columbia
    • 1926 - 1929
      the University of Lincoln


    Anastasia Yuchaite last changed 26/03/2012 view changes
    • School
      • null
      • null
    Edit Profile