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Langston Hughes

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Langston Hughes

James Langston Hughes was born on February 1, 1902, in Joplin, Missouri. He was named after his father, but it was later shortened to just Langston Hughes. He was the only child of James and Carrie Hughes. His family was never happy so he was a lonely youth. The reasons for their unhappiness had as much to do with the color of their skin and the society into which they had been born as they did with their opposite personalities. They were victims of white attitudes and discriminatory laws. They moved to Oklahoma in the late 1890s. Although the institution of slavery was officially abolished racial discrimination and segregation persisted.

Langston Hughes parents then separated. Since his mother moved from city to city in search of work he lived in Lawrence, Kansas, with his grandmother named Mary Hughes. She fiercely opposed to racial discrimination. While growing up, Langston also stayed with friends of the family, James and Mary Reed. Living with his grandmother and the Reeds in all-white neighborhoods, he felt even more isolated.

When Langston was ready to start school in 1908, his mother was told that because her son was black, he could not attend a nearby, mostly white school in Topeka, Kansas. Carrie, his mother, fought with the school over their decision. She won her fight and Langston was finally admitted to the school. He dealed with his loneliness by writing poetry. After Langston's grandmother died in 1915, he went to live with his mother, her second husband, Homer Clark, and Clark's two-year-old son, Gwyn. They went from Lawrence, Kansas to Kansas City, Missouri to Lincoln, Illinois. They moved to Cleveland, Ohio in 1916. Clark moved to Chicago, Illinois. Langston's mother followed him and Langston was left alone in Cleveland.

He devoted himself to his class work and other interests. He was on the editorial staff, on the student council, one the track team, an officer in the drill corps, and acted in school plays. When Langston Hughes attended Central High, the student body was very ethnically diverse. Langston's Jewish friends were the ones who first opened his eyes to the ideals of socialism. Socialism is the doctrine that all property in a society is public property. Claude McKay, a black writer whose articles and poems appeared in the Liberator, became a favorite of Langston's.

Langston started to use Negro (African-American) dialects as well as the words and rhythms of the music he heard while attending church and Sunday school with Mrs. Reed. He also used street talk and the blues. Hughes poetry began to reflect images of black experiences; also captured in Romare Bearden's After Church. He wrote his famous poem When Sue Wears Red, to one of his high school sweet hearts. A lot of his early poems focused on how it felt to be black. When Hughes moved to Harlem in 1921, the district was in the process of becoming heavily populated by blacks.

Hughes arrived in New York City in September 4,1921, he was only nineteen years old. His year of study at Columbia University in New York was not an especially happy one for him, as life at the Ivy League school offered its share of troubling racial encounters. In May of 1922, Hughes found out that his father had a stroke and was in critically ill. Countee Cullen went from being Hughes' close friend to his chief poetic rival as the two poets differed in their opinions of what it is that their poetry should try to accomplish. Hughes poetry was steadily being published throughout 1922. One night in March 1923, in a Harlem blues club, he began writing The Weary Blues. The poem expressed his desire to capture black music and speech in his poetry.

Hughes left New York on June13, 1923, heading to the west coast of Africa. During Hughes visit to Africa in 1923, he was as impressed with the openness of the people there he was with the wild style of dress. In a kind of depressed frame of mind, he wrote, I, Too, Sing America, one of his most powerful and best-known poems.

After taking number of odd jobs over

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