Langston Hughes was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist. Born James Mercer Langston Hughes on February 1, 1902, in Joplin, Missouri, Hughes was one of the earliest innovators of the then-new literary art form called jazz poetry. His parents divorced when he was a young child, and his father moved to Mex- ico. His grandmother raised him until he was thirteen, when he moved to Lincoln, Illi- nois, to live with his mother and her husband, before the family eventually settled in Cleveland, Ohio. It was in Lincoln that Hughes began writing poetry. After graduating from high school, he spent a year in Mexico followed by a year at Columbia University in New York City. During this time, he held odd jobs such as assistant cook, launderer, and busboy. He also travelled to Africa and Europe working as a seaman. In November 1924, he moved to Washington, D. C. and then had his first book of poetry, The Weary Blues, published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1926. He finished his college education at Lin- coln University in Pennsylvania three years later. In 1930 his first novel, Not Without Laughter, won the Harmon gold medal for literature.
In 1940, The Big Sea, Hughes’s autobiography up to age 28, was published. Hughes also began contributing to the column the Chicago Defender, for which he created a comic character named Jesse B. Semple, better known as “Simple.” Simple was a black Everyman that Hughes used to further explore urban, working-class black themes and address racial issues.
Langston Hughes died from complications of prostate cancer on May 22, 1967. His funeral was more of a celebration of his life through music over a spoken eulogy as it was filled with jazz and blues music.
Hughes’s home in Harlem, on East 127th Street, received New York City Landmark status in 1981 and was added to the National Register of Places in 1982. Volumes of his work continue to be published and translated throughout the world as his life and legacy continue to be remembered and celebrated.