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Hello I'm Milo for About.com and today we're talking about the poet Langston Hughes. A vastly prolific and influential figure in American literature, Hughes not only was an accomplished poet but activist, playwright, and much more. Born February 1, 1902 in Joplin, Missouri to a politically active and dynamic family of multiple heritages, he grew up in various towns in the midwest. His mother worked to instil in him a sense of racial pride. His family struggled during his childhood, especially after his father left his mother and then the US to escape racism. In high school in Cleveland, Ohio, Hughes wrote for the school newspaper and yearbook and began to write poetry, short stories, and plays. He began at this time to experiment with Jazz poetry, using the syncopated rhythms and seemingly improvisational delivery of the musical form.After a stint in Mexico, to enlist the financial support of his father, Hughes went to study at Columbia University in 1921. He left a year later due to the racial prejudice he faced but it was at this time he discovered Harlem, the New York City neighborhood that would play a major role in his life. For the next few years Hughes seemed unanchored, literally, working on a boat that took him to Europe and West Africa. Returning to the US in late 1924, he performed a series of odd jobs all the while maintaining his devotion to his writing. In fact, he left a good position as personal assistant to work as a busboy, as the former commitment left him little time for his craft. Finally Hughes enrolled in Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, an historically black institution. Graduating in 1929 he returned to Harlem, which, despite his wanderings, became his primary residence for the rest of his life.Throughout these journeys Hughes was prolific and passionate in his writing, forming a worldview that sought to celebrate the common black person, the heritage, struggle, and contribution of the black story to the great American experience. He was deeply proud of his race and let it shine in his work. His work spanned storytelling of all forms from theater to film, poetry to novels, as well as nonfiction.Despite the rampant racism of the time, he won many awards and was highly acclaimed. Many critics claim that he was gay and the LGBT community proudly claims him among their icons. Langston Hughes died at the age of 65 on May 22, 1967 and his ashes are interred below a work of art that references one of his earliest acclaimed poems that he wrote at the age of 18, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” For more helpful and interesting information on poetry and literature, check us out at About.com.
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