Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Sharissa. Sharissa Wonders, “Who was Langston Hughes?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Sharissa!

Many people have written about the African American experience. From the 1920s through the 1960s, though, there was one African American writer whose voice stood out. Who are we talking about? Langston Hughes!

Shortly after Langston Hughes was born in 1902, his parents separated. His father moved to Mexico, and his mother traveled frequently. That left Hughes to be raised by his grandmother. 

Hughes’s grandmother passed away when he was a teenager, so he moved in with his mother. Eventually, he settled down in Cleveland, Ohio. Hughes wrote poetry as a teenager. His teachers introduced him to the work of poets Walt Whitman, Carl Sandburg, and Paul Lawrence Dunbar. Hughes was inspired by their poetry.

Hughes graduated high school in 1920. He went to Mexico to spend a year with his father. Around this same time, his first poem was published. It was called “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and was printed in The Crisis magazine. It received high praise. Hughes went back to the U.S. That’s when he enrolled at Columbia University.

During his one year at Columbia, Hughes took part in the Harlem Renaissance. Wanting to see the world, Hughes dropped out of Columbia. He got a job as a steward on a freighter that would take him to Africa and Europe.

Hughes continued to write poetry. Upon his return to the U.S. in 1924, he started working in Washington, D.C. There, he met famous poet Vachel Lindsay. Hughes’s work impressed Lindsay. He worked to help promote Hughes’s poetry to a wider audience.

Hughes’s poetry won more awards. It helped him earn a scholarship to Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. Hughes published his first book of poetry in 1926. It was called The Weary Blues.

Soon, Hughes decided that he could make a living as a writer. Over the coming years, he wrote more volumes of poetry. He also published novels, short stories, and newspaper and magazine articles. He even wrote plays for Broadway. His writing earned rave reviews from critics and readers alike.

Langston Hughes died in 1967 in New York City. His ashes were buried beneath the entrance of the Arthur Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem. An inscription from his poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” marks the spot: “My soul has grown deep like the rivers.”

Hughes’ home in Harlem gained landmark status in 1981. It was also added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. The street was renamed “Langston Hughes Place.”

Today, Langston Hughes is remembered for his many works. He gave insight into the life experiences of African Americans in America during the 1920s through the 1960s. Hughes is also well-known for his use of jazz rhythms and dialect that spoke powerfully to the common man.

Standards: CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.W.3, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2

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