-The Soup Chef
James Langston Hughes (better known as Langston) was born in 1902 in Joplin, Missouri to James Nathaniel Hughes and Carrie Langston Hughes. Shortly after his birth though, Langston’s parents divorced and his father moved to Mexico. Little did anyone know at the time that Langston would turn out to be a very famous African-American writer who traveled the entire world!
Langston Hughes was always living with different people during his childhood. Before he began school, Langston lived with his grandmother, Mary Patterson Leary Langston. She was very poor but in order to get by, she rented rooms in her house to university students. She and Langston ate dandelion greens or went hungry most of the time. Langston also had to wear women’s shoes that were given to his grandmother from friends. He later on wrote that they “were very embarrassing for a boy to have to wear.” Langston’s grandmother told him a lot about his family’s history which he enjoyed but she did not provide much company for the young boy.
Langston was fortunate enough to get a good education. He excelled through elementary, high school, and college despite the racial problems he faced. He went to an all white school for first grade which his mother managed to get him into. But during second grade he was in an African-American school. For high school, Langston’s mother had just remarried to Homer Clark, Langston now had a two-year-old brother named Gwynn, the family moved to Cleveland, Ohio and Langston enrolled in the nearby Central High School. He enjoyed himself very much there and made good friends. His teachers said he was a very good writer and his class chose him as class poet, which he also was in the 8th grade. During Langston’s college education, he went to Columbia University, which his biological father, James Hughes, had paid for. Langston felt uncomfortable being one of the few African-Americans there. After his first year, he got a scholarship with the help of the NAACP to Lincoln University, an all black college in rural Pennsylvania. Langston loved it there and fit right in. He later received an honorary doctorate from the school in 1943.
Many people think that Langston Hughes just wrote poems, but he didn’t just write poems. He also wrote books, short stories, plays, news articles, and even songs. Some of his most famous writings are The Negro Speaks of Rivers, The Weary Blues, Fine Clothes to the Jew, Not Without Laughter, The Ways of White Folks, The Big Sea, Shakespeare in Harlem, Fields of Wonder, and I Wonder as I Wander. Langston Hughes won awards from the NAACP, Harmon Foundation, and Opportunity magazine. Langston Hughes also taught writing at the University of Chicago’s Laboratory School. In 1931, he decided to make a reading tour of the South where many less fortunate African-American children lived. Since he had enjoyed books so much when he was a child, it was a delight for Langston to hand out books to children and read to them.
The reading tour of the South was not the only traveling Langston did though. In fact, Langston traveled around the entire world! He sailed to Africa and Europe as a merchant seaman, (he described Africa as “the real thing”), lived in Paris and worked at a jazz club, traveled to the Soviet Union, lived in Mexico for a year with his father, and visited Haiti for a Summer. Langston enjoyed his trips very much and when he visited Africa it had a great impact on his poems. He also attended a cultural festival in Dakar, Senegal as an American representative.
Langston Hughes became very sick with stomach pain on May 6, 1967. After he had an unsuccessful prostate operation done, Langston Hughes passed away on May 22, 1967. Friends of his were very shocked to hear the unexpected news. He would be remembered forever by all of them.
There are many more great things that Langston Hughes did in his lifetime, but if I had written them all down, this biography would not be considered as "short". When I read the book, Langston Hughes: “Life makes Poems” by Jodie A. Shull my eyes really got opened so that I could truly see how great a writer Langston Hughes was. I was amazed at the things one African-American man could do during a time of segregation and racial prejudice. He had a great impact in the African-American arts world and I hope that he will never be forgotten.
Shull, Jodie A. Langston Hughes: “Life Makes Poems”. Berkeley Heights: Enslow
Publishers, Inc., 2006.