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Langston Hughes

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People always listen to music, watch movies or plays, and even read poetry without once even thinking what is could be that helps and artist eventually create a masterpiece. Often times, it is assumed that artists just have a "gift", and people just do not consider the circumstances and situations that gradually mold a dormant idea into a polished reality. This seems to be the case with nearly every famous actor, writer, painter, or musician; including the ever-famous Langston Hughes.

In order for a person to really understand how Mr. Hughes's life shaped his poetry, one must know all about his background. In this paper, I will write a short biography of Hughes's life and tell how this helped accent his literary genius.

Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri, but lived with his grandmother in Lawrence, Kansas until he was thirteen. This arrangement was necessary because for some reason or another, his mother and father either did not or could not take care of Langston Hughes. Hughes felt hurt and rejected by both his mother and his father, and was unable to understand why he was not allowed to live with either of them. These feelings of rejection caused him to grow up very insecure and unsure of himself.

Although growing up without his parents was difficult and confusing for Hughes, it was during this time that his fire for literature was sparked by his grandmother, who always told Hughes stories of independent and strong forbears (Mullane 499). Hughes's grandmother, Mary Sampson Patterson Leary Langston, was prominent in the African American community in Lawrence. Her first husband had died at Harper's Ferry fighting with John Brown; her second husband, Hughes's grandfather, was a prominent Kansas politician during Reconstruction. Hughes has been quoted as saying, "Through my grandmother's stories, always life moved heroically to an end. Nobody ever cried in my grandmother's stories. They worked, or schemed, or fought. But no crying. When my grandmother died, I did not cry either. Something about my grandmother's stories(without her having said so) taught me the uselessness of crying.

Even though his grandmother had a great past and was highly respected in her community, she was very old and poor, and could not give Hughes the attention that he needed growing up. Hughes went to live with his mother in Lincoln, Illinois and Cleveland, Ohio where he went to high school.

After the death of Hughes grandmother, he was able to go live with his mother in Lincoln, Ohio for the first time. Here, according to Hughes, he wrote his first verse and was named class poet of his eighth grade class. Hughes lived in Lincoln for only a year, and then had to move to Toledo, Ohio because of a new job his stepfather found. Shortly after his move to Toledo, his stepfather and mother moved on, this time to Chicago, but Hughes stayed in Cleveland in order to finish high school. In Ohio, his high school teachers and classmates recognized his writing talent, and Hughes had his first pieces of verse published in the Central High Monthly, a sophisticated school magazine. Soon he was on the staff of the Monthly, and publishing in the magazine regularly. An English teacher introduced him to poets such as Carl Sandburg and Walk Whitman, and these became Hughes' earliest influences. the summer after Hughes's junior year in high school, his father reentered his life. James Hughes was living in Toluca, Mexico, and wanted his son to join him there. Hughes lived in Mexico for the summer but he did not get along with his father. This conflict, though painful, apparently contributed to Hughes's maturity. When Hughes returned to Cleveland to finish high school, his writing had also matured. Consequently, during his senior year of high school, Langston Hughes began writing poetry of distinction.

After graduating from high school, Hughes planned to return to Mexico to visit with his father, in order to try to convince him that he should pay for his son's college education at Columbia University in New York City. At Columbia, Hughes thought, he could get a college education but also begin his career as a writer. On his way to Mexico on the train, while thinking about his past and his future, Hughes wrote the famous poem, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers." After arriving in Mexico, the tension between Hughes and his father was strong. Hughes wanted to be a writer; his father wanted him to be an engineer. After Hughes sent some of his poetry to the Brownies Book and Crisis magazines and it was accepted, his father was impressed enough to agree to pay for a year at Columbia University.

Hughes entered Columbia University in the fall of 1921, a little more than a year after he had graduated from Central High School. He stayed in school there for only a year; meanwhile, he found Harlem. Hughes quickly became an integral part of the arts scene in Harlem, so much so that in many ways he defined the spirit of the age, from a literary point of view. The Big Sea, the first volume of his autobiography, provides such a crucial first-person account of the era and its key players that much of what we know about the Harlem Renaissance we know from Langston Hughes's



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