Langston Hughes



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James Mercer Langston Hughes, son of Carolyn Clark and James Nathaniel Hughes, was born February 1st, 1902 in Joplin, MO. James N. Hughes abandoned his family for Mexico, unable to endure the racial prejudices in America.  As a result, Langston Hughes was raised by his grandmother, Mary Langston, in Lawrence, Kansas. Mary Langston inculcated in Langston a meaningful understanding of racial pride. It was Mary Langston who first inspired Langston Hughes to explore the poetic world. After the death of his grandmother, Langston lived with some family friends for a few years before living with his mother again in Lincoln, Illinois.  Langston attended elementary school here.   

After moving to Cleveland, OH, Langston Hughes attended Central High School where he was a writer for the school newspaper and a yearbook editor.  Hughes was also elected class poet. Retrospectively, Langston Hughes commented that the reason why he was elected class poet was because of a racial stereotype that black people had rhythm: "I was a victim of a stereotype. There were only two of us Negro kids in the whole class and our English teacher was always stressing the importance of rhythm in poetry. Well, everyone knows, expect us, that all Negroes have rhythm, so they elected me as class poet." 

Furthermore, during this time, Langston Hughes began to write his own short stories and poetry. After graduating from high school, Hughes went to go live with his father in Mexico in 1920.  Despite the unstable relationship between him and his father,  Hughes needed financial support from his father in order to attend the prestigious Columbia University. Although his father despised Langston's dreams of being a writer, he provided the money on the premise that Langston would study engineering while attending Columbia University.  Despite maintaining a B+ average, Langston Hughes left Columbia University after only a year, distracted by the racial prejudice within the school. Hughes shifted his focus from his studies to his literature. At this time in his life, Langston Hughes began to make his debut as one of the greatest poets in history. 

  Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale Collection of American Literature Reading Series. Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.