What Was Langston Hughes Childhood Like

Early Life

Born on February 1, 1902, in Joplin, Missouri, Langston Hughes was the only child of James Nathaniel Hughes and Carrie Mercer Langston Hughes. His parents separated soon after his birth, with his mother eventually settling in Kansas and his father in Cuba.

Hughes spent much of his childhood yearning for the love of a father he saw in short, sporadic visits. He lived in Buffalo and later in Cleveland, living with his mother and grandmother, settling in a home near the corporation that employed his father. Hughes later moved to Ohio with his grandmother’s family and attended school, one of his few sources of stability.

Nurtured by his grandmother, uncles and extended family, a resourceful Hughes decided at a young age to pursue a writing career. He wrote his first poem at age 13.


At the encouragement of an uncle, Langston Hughes attended Central High School in Cleveland, Ohio. His entry into Central High School put the 14-year-old Hughes in the company of the best and brightest students of the district—a school populated almost entirely by local Jewish élite. Langston was a star pupil, making the honor roll with ease. The ambition of young Hughes would shortly plant him in one of the best known institutions of higher learning—Lincoln University.

He graduated from Central in 1920 and enrolled at Columbia University in New York City. Though he’d proven himself a competent student during his high school years, his first two years at Columbia proved difficult. Hughes dropped out of Columbia in 1922


Netting him a Houghton Mifflin Fellowship, Hughes left for Paris, where he worked for a few months before deciding to attend the Sorbonne, studying there in 1924 and 1925. In 1927, Hughes returned to the United States and moved to Washington, D.C., where he shared a home with his father. He worked odd jobs, earned his B.A. degree from Lincoln University, and self-published his first volume of poems, The Weary Blues (1926), to enthusiastic reviews.

Hughes continued writing, gaining fame resulting in a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1935. The wanderlust that characterized his life was evident in his travels in the 1930s throughout Europe, Africa, and the Soviet Union. In 1938, Hughes assumed the post of Harlem editor of the Amsterdam News the largest black newspaper in the country. This was a prime opportunity for Hughes to celebrate and dedicate his attention to the culture of Harlem, acting as an ambassador.

Literary Style and Notable Poems

As his career progressed, Langston shifted between a variety of poetry styles. His poetry often was a response to the racism and poverty he experienced or witnessed at different times throughout history. Though some of his poetry was infused with his own personal experiences, most of his poetry is focused on championing civil rights, exploring societal issues, race, and identity.

By the time Hughes died on May 22, 1967, his works had earned him a reputation as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. He was best known for his poem “I, Too,” which was published in more than 100 anthologies, literature textbooks, and collections. Other popular works include “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” “The Weary Blues,” “Harlem,” and “Dream Boogie.”


Today, Langston Hughes remains one of the most renowned and respected voices from the Harlem Renaissance and beyond. He is remembered for his influence on both the literary world and the civil rights movement and for inspiring generations of African-Americans. Several schools, educational institutions, and literary awards around the world bear his name.

Hughes was a great pioneer in the world of literature, not just for writing about his experiences but using language to capture the lives and struggles of African Americans as a whole. He wrote in a way that was accessible to the masses and captured the essence of the pain and struggle his people felt in a unique and relatable way.

Expert’s Perspectives

According to literary scholar, Dr. Gaurav Sharma, “Langston Hughes was a poetic innovator who used his immense talent to expose the racial inequalities rampant at the time. He evoked the struggles, hopes, and dreams of African Americans and infused his works with a passionate, lyrical voice that made his poems popular among the public.”

Art educator, Dr. Aileen Baker also opines that “Hughes’ poetry skillfully depicted the lives of ordinary African Americans, connecting readers to a greater social and political context. He wrote from a place of both understanding and inspiration, striving to bring a kind of peace and joy to his readers — a peace and joy he longed for, despite his personal experiences of injustice.”


Langston Hughes’ contributions to poetry, literature, and civil rights are invaluable. Despite the immense challenges he had to face in his childhood, he developed a conscientiousness for responding to the sources of oppression he often encountered. He wanted his body of work to leave a lasting impression on his readers, allowing them to better understand the effects of racism and feel empowered with a spirit of hope. His passion was to write in a way that would champion the fight against injustice and oppression.

As a result of his indefatigable effort, Hughes has established himself as an iconic voice in the African American community. He has earned himself a place in hearts and minds of many around the world, and remains a revered figure in literature and human rights to this day.

Impact on the Harlem Renaissance

Often called the “Father of the Harlem Renaissance,” Langston Hughes was one of the most influential and inspirational figures of this period of African American literary and cultural awakening. He wrote primarily about the experiences of African Americans, and their search for identity, freedom and justice in the early twentieth century. His works often challenged the the existing negative stereotypes, while advocating for the rights of African Americans.

Hughes’ poetry, novels and plays often posed complex questions about identity, oppression, art and politics. He introduced into African American literature a black vernacular filled with imagery and rhythm that celebrated the culture and African American experience of life. His influence on the development of a distinct African American culture has been monumental.


Langston Hughes was a polyglot; he was proficient in seven languages and interpreted them in his poetry. He wrote not just in English, but also in Spanish, French, and German, and in his later life, studied other languages such as Russian, Italian and Japanese. His multilingualism enabled him to reach wider audiences, and his level of comprehension allowed him to absorb the nuances of each language and blend them into a unique expression.

Hughes was able to communicate the experiences of African Americans to audiences around the world by translating cultural details with verbal and poetic sensitivity.

In fact, some of his works such as “One-Way Ticket” and “Goodbye Christ” demonstrate his usage and admiration of foreign languages and references to their literature. Langston Hughes was also a master of code-switching, which he used to bridge racial divides and convey solidarity.

Significance of His Work Today

Langston Hughes’ works, which capture the full range of African American history and experience, provide invaluable messages for readers in the present day. His writing can still be seen and felt as relevant and articulate in an era of cultural reconciliation and racial healing.

Hughes’ work and legacy speaks to the African American community, as well as people from a diverse set of backgrounds, offering new ways of understanding their culture and the oppression faced by their ancestors. This is largely due to his comprehensive and varied engagement with subjects, both personal and national.

In commemorating Langston Hughes’ contributions to American literature, we gain a better understanding of our own current society and, more importantly, the potential of our collective future.

Dannah Hannah is an established poet and author who loves to write about the beauty and power of poetry. She has published several collections of her own works, as well as articles and reviews on poets she admires. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English, with a specialization in poetics, from the University of Toronto. Hannah was also a panelist for the 2017 Futurepoem book Poetry + Social Justice, which aimed to bring attention to activism through poetry. She lives in Toronto, Canada, where she continues to write and explore the depths of poetry and its influence on our lives.

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