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.
He spent a year in Mexico and a year at Columbia University (1921-1922.). 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.Worked as seaman on voyages to Europe and Africa. Editor African Treasury, 1959, First Book of Africa, 1960. Contributor verse and prose to magazines.
Author: Weary Blues, 1926. Fine Clothes to the Jew, 1927. Not Without Laughter, 1930.Popo and Fifina (with Arna Bontemps), 1932. The Dream Keeper (collection of poems), 1932. The Ways of White Folks, 1934.The Big Sea (autobiography), 1940. Shakespeare in Harlem (poems). Fields of Wonder (poems), 1947.One Way Ticket (poems), 1949. Simple Speaks His Mind (humor), 1950. Montage of a Dream Deferred (poems), 1951.Laughing to Keep From Crying, 1952. The First Book of Negroes, 1952. Simple Takes A Wife, 1953.(biographies) Famous American Negroes, 1954. Frist Book of Rhythms, 1954. First Book of Jazz, 1954.Also First Book of the West Indies, 1955. Libretto of opera The Barrier, 1950. Lyricist for Just Around the Corner.Translator, Cuba Libre, poems by Nicolas Grillen, 1948. Gypsy Ballads (poems by Garcia Lorca), 1951. Co-editor, The Poetry ofthe Negro (anthology), 1949.(with A. W. Bontemps) Book of Negro Folklore, 1958. Selected Poems, 1959. Tambourines to Glory, 1959.Simple Uncle Sam, 1965. Libretto of Troubled Island, music by Wm. Grant Still, produced at New York City Center.Editor African Treasury, 1959, First Book of Africa, 1960. Lyricist, Elmer Rice-Kurt Weill musical Street Scene, 1946.
The Weary Blues
Fine Clothes to the Jew
The Negro Mother and Other Dramatic Recitations
Dear Lovely Death
The Dream Keeper and Other Poems
Scottsboro Limited: Four Poems and a Play, Golden Stair Press, New York
Let America Be America Again
Shakespeare in Harlem
Fields of Wonder
Montage of a Dream Deferred
Selected Poems of Langston Hughes
Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz, Hill & Wang
The Panther and the Lash: Poems of Our Times
The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes
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.
In 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.
Member Omega Psi Phi. Member National Institute of Arts and Letters, A.S.C.A.P. Play “Mulatto” at Vanderbilt Theater, New York City, 1935.