James Mercer Langston Hughes, or just Langston Hughes, was an American writer, poet and social activist, born on February 1, 1902, in Joplin, Missouri. Most popularly recognized and appreciated for his work in literary art form of jazz poetry and the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s, Hughes worked in the poetic and writing business for close to 40 years. The Renaissance particularly revolved around the emergence of African-American culture in literature and the liberal arts, something that Hughes devoted his life’s work to. As a child, Hughes became dedicated to the cause of African-American and racial rights, setting foundations for some of his most popular works. Another important theme that he pertained to in his poetry concerned the ideology of Communism, as he believed the Communist ideology was the only solution to the discriminations against the African-Americans in the United States.
Like the broader themes of Communism and African-American rights, Hughes was also particularly keen on highlighting the various prejudices in the socio-economic settings of society on the basis of skin color, and at the same time spoke for the troubles suffered by the Black working middle class. Along similar lines, he was also a huge adherent of national and international African ideologies and unity, implying how there needs to be racial consciousness clear of hatred not just on a local platform but one that on the global scale as well. One of his earliest works signifying these themes included a poem published in The Crisis called The Negro Speaks of Rivers became a popular effort on Hughes’ part. Another piece concerning similar ideas called The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain was published in The Nation in 1926, encouraging Blacks to proceed through societal and economic efforts without fear and shame. His first novel, called Not without Laughter, came out in 1930, entirely supported by private patrons at a time when art grants were difficult to secure. The story narrates the life of an African boy and his family, who had to go through several struggles just because of their race and class. Hughes followed up his efforts with a collection of short pieces in 1934, called The Ways of White Folks, which highlight the interaction of Whites and Blacks, generally basing such encounters on a pessimistic platform.
In the early 1940s, he founded The Skyloft Players, a platform for future Black playwrights to set their mark and work towards a bright and contributive future. Around the same time, he created a fictional character Jesse B. Semple, or Simple, who represented the black men of Harlem, and their discussions on the topical issues of the time. Although Hughes wrote several novels, short stories, plays, poetry, operas and essays profusely for the youth, he had variable support amongst them, as many often considered his ideas concerning race a bit out of date. In his career, he also spent some time teaching literature and poetry in institutes such as Atlanta University and University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. For the tremendous amount of contributions under his name, Hughes was awarded several high-status recognitions in the poetic and literary world. Some examples of these awards include the Rosenwald Fund grant (1941), Anisfield-Wolf Book Award (1954) and the Langston Hughes Medal (1973).
Langston Hughes passed away May 22, 1967, in New York City due to a lost battle against prostate cancer.