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This Day In History: February 1st
Renowned Harlem Renaissance poet, Langston Hughes, published his first poem in 1921 and gave insightful portrayals of African-American life for four decades. Hughes also had an interest in the world of jazz, which influenced the novels, short stories, plays and poetry he wrote.
James Mercer Langston Hughes was born on February 1, 1902, in Joplin, Missouri. He was raised by his grandmother until she died and was sent to live with his mother. The family moved around frequently before settling in Cleveland, Ohio. During this time, Hughes began to write poetry and was influenced by the works of Carl Sandburg and Walt Whitman.
Hughes graduated from high school and spent time with his father in Mexico. His poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” was published in The Crisis magazine and was highly praised. He returned to the United States and enrolled at Columbia University. He attended the university briefly but quickly became a part of the Harlem Renaissance.
In 1922, Hughes decided to drop out and worked various odd jobs before becoming a steward on a ship that took him to Africa and Spain. He lived in Paris after leaving the ship and continued to develop and publish his poetry. By 1925 he made his return to the United States again and published “The Weary Blues.” The poem won first prize in the Opportunity Magazine Literary Competition, and Hughes received a scholarship to attend Lincoln University in Pennsylvania.
After graduating in 1929, Hughes published his first novel, Not Without Laughter. The book was successful, which convinced Hughes that he could make a living as a writer. He began traveling and touring the United States, the Soviet Union, Japan and Haiti.
During the 1940s, Hughes became a contributing columnist to the Chicago Defender. He told stories that explored urban themes and addressed racial issues. The columns were a success and became the focus of his later books and plays. He also became a creative writing professor at Atlanta University (Clark Atlanta University) and a guest lecturer.
Hughes continued publishing his work for the next two decades. He set out to tell stories of the African-American community that reflected the culture, including music, laughter, language and even struggles. On May 22, 1967, Hughes died from complications of prostate cancer. His residence at 20 East 127th