Langston Hughes

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Hughes, Langston

Hughes, Langston (James Langston Hughes), 1902–67, American poet and central figure of the Harlem Renaissance, b. Joplin, Mo., grad. Lincoln Univ., 1929. He worked at a variety of jobs and lived in several countries, including Mexico and France, before Vachel Lindsay discovered his poetry in 1925. The publication of The Weary Blues (1926), his first volume of poetry, enabled Hughes to attend Lincoln Univ. in Pennsylvania, from which he graduated in 1929. His writing, which often uses dialect and jazz rhythms, is largely concerned with depicting African American life, particularly the experience of the urban African American. Among his later collections of poetry are Shakespeare in Harlem (1942), One-Way Ticket (1949), and Selected Poems (1959). Hughes's numerous other works include several plays, notably Mulatto (1935); books for children, such as The First Book of Negroes (1952); and novels, including Not Without Laughter (1930). His newspaper sketches about Jesse B. Simple were collected in The Best of Simple (1961).


See his autobiographies, The Big Sea (1940) and I Wonder as I Wander (1956); The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes (1995) and Selected Letters of Langston Hughes (2015), both ed. by A. Rampersad and D. Roessel; Remember Me to Harlem: The Letters of Langston Hughes and Carl Van Vechten (2001), ed. by E. Bernard; biography by A. Rampersad (2 vol., 1986–88); Y. Taylor, Zora and Langston: A Story of Friendship and Betrayal (2019); studies by O. Jemie (1985) and S. C. Tracy (1988).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Hughes, Langston


Born Feb. 1, 1902, in Joplin, Mo.; died May 22, 1967, in New York City. American writer and publicist.

Born into a Negro family, Hughes graduated from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in 1929. In his early verse (his first work was published in 1925) he sang the praises of simple people, using much folkloric detail. In the 1930’s, Hughes joined the progressive movement; in 1932 and 1933 he visited the USSR, and in 1934 he published A Negro Looks at Soviet Central Asia. The autobiographical novel Not Without Laughter (1930; Russian translation, 1932) is devoted to the life of American Negroes, as is the collection of short stories The Ways of White Folks (1934; Russian translation, 1936). The poetry collection A New Song (1938) is filled with the vision of proletarian internationalism.

Hughes’ works of the 1940’s and 50’s included the important articles about Simple, a folk hero with common sense who cleverly criticizes various aspects of American life. Especially noteworthy for their lyricism and rich poetic form are the collections Shakespeare in Harlem (1942), One Way Ticket (1949), and Montage of a Dream Deferred (1951). His last collection, The Panther and the Lash (1967), includes verses on topical political events. Hughes also wrote the novel Tambourines to Glory (1958) and a number of plays.

In the 1960’s, Hughes took part in the struggle of American Negroes for civil rights, although he criticized extremist nationalistic tendencies.


Selected Poems. New York, 1959.
Good Morning, Revolution. New York, 1973.
In Russian translation:
Izbr. slikhi. Moscow, 1964.


Gilenson, B. “‘Ia tozhe—Amerika’: K 75-letiiu so dnia rozhdeniia L. Kh’iuza.” Inostrannaia literatura. 1977, no. 3.
Emanuel, J. Langston Hughes. New York, 1967.
Langston Hughes: Black Genius. New York, 1971.
Dickinson, D. C. A Biobibliography of Langston Hughes. With a foreword by A. Bontemps. Hamden, [Conn.], 1967.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Hughes, (James Mercer) Langston

(1902–67) poet, writer, playwright, librettist; born in Joplin, Mo. After publishing his first poem, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" (1921), he attended Columbia University for one year (1921), but left, working on a freighter to travel to Africa, living in Paris and Rome, and supporting himself with odd jobs. After his poetry was promoted by Vachel Linday, he attended Lincoln University (1925–29); while there his first book of poems, The Weary Blues (1926), launched his career as a writer. As one of the founders of the cultural movement known as the Harlem Renaissance—which he practically defined in his essay, "The Negro Artist and the Radical Mountain" (1926)—he was innovative in his use of jazz rhythms and dialect to depict the life of urban blacks in his poetry, stories, and plays. Having provided the lyrics for the musical Street Scene (1947) and the play that inspired the opera Troubled Island (1949), in the 1960s he returned to the stage with works that drew on black gospel music, such as Black Nativity (1961). A prolific writer for four decades—in his later years he completed a two-volume autobiography and edited anthologies and pictorial volumes—he abandoned the Marxism of his youth but never gave up protesting the injustices committed against his fellow African-Americans. Among his most popular creations was Jesse B. Semple, better known as "Simple," a black Everyman featured in the syndicated column he began in 1942 for the Chicago Defender. Because he often employed humor and seldom portrayed or endorsed violent confrontations, he was for some years disregarded as a model by black writers; but by the 1980s he was being reappraised and was newly appreciated as a significant voice of African-Americans.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.