Langston Hughes Timeline

Langston Hughes (1902-1969) was an influential American poet, novelist, playwright, and social activist. He emerged as a central figure during the Harlem Renaissance, a vibrant cultural and intellectual movement of the 1920s and 1930s that celebrated African American art, music, and literature.

Hughes’s poetry and writings captured the essence of the African American experience, addressing themes of racial identity, social justice, and the struggles and triumphs of Black people in America.

Through his literary contributions and activism, Hughes became one of the most prominent voices in African American literature, leaving a lasting impact on American culture and inspiring generations of writers and artists.

Timeline of Langston Hughes

1902 – Born on February 1 in Joplin, Missouri

Langston Hughes was born into a family deeply rooted in African American history. His parents were James Nathaniel Hughes and Caroline Mercer Langston.

Also Read: Langston Hughes Accomplishments

His father, a lawyer and rancher, left the family when Hughes was very young, leaving him to be raised primarily by his mother and grandmother.

After his parents separated, Langston Hughes moved to Lawrence, Kansas, to live with his grandmother, Mary Patterson Langston.

However, in 1907, he joined his mother and her new husband in Cleveland, Ohio. His stepfather, Homer Clark, introduced him to a wider range of experiences and cultural influences.

1914 – Moves to Cleveland, Ohio, to live with his mother

In 1914, Langston Hughes’s mother and stepfather relocated to Lincoln, Illinois. Hughes continued his education there and attended Central High School. During this time, he began to develop his passion for writing and poetry.

1921 – Attends Columbia University but leaves after a year

After graduating from high school, Hughes enrolled at Columbia University in New York City in 1921. However, he faced racial discrimination and found the environment to be un-supportive of his writing aspirations.

Also Read: Langston Hughes Facts

Feeling isolated and disillusioned, he decided to leave the university after one year, opting for a less conventional path to pursue his literary career.

1925 – “The Weary Blues” wins first prize in a literary competition

In 1925, Langston Hughes submitted his poem titled “The Weary Blues” to a literary competition organized by Opportunity magazine. To his delight, his poem won first prize, marking a significant milestone in his career.

This achievement brought Hughes widespread recognition and established him as a talented poet within the African American literary community.

1926 – Publishes his debut poetry collection, “The Weary Blues”

Building on the success of his award-winning poem, Langston Hughes published his first poetry collection, also titled “The Weary Blues,” in 1926.

The collection showcased his unique poetic voice, blending elements of jazz, blues, and vernacular language to depict the experiences of African Americans in America. The book received critical acclaim and further solidified Hughes’s reputation as a groundbreaking poet.

1929 – Publishes his first novel, “Not Without Laughter”

In 1929, Langston Hughes published his first novel, “Not Without Laughter.” The novel tells the story of a young African American boy named Sandy, growing up in a small Kansas town.

Through Sandy’s perspective, Hughes explores themes of race, family, and societal expectations. “Not Without Laughter” received favorable reviews and established Hughes as a talented prose writer as well.

1930 – Travels to the Soviet Union

In 1930, Langston Hughes embarked on a journey to the Soviet Union as part of a cultural exchange program. This trip had a profound impact on him, as he experienced a different racial climate and witnessed the Soviet Union’s efforts to combat racism and promote equality.

The visit influenced his political beliefs and fostered his commitment to social justice and anti-imperialist activism.

1932 – Co-writes the play “Mule Bone” with Zora Neale Hurston

In 1932, Langston Hughes collaborated with acclaimed writer Zora Neale Hurston to write the play “Mule Bone.” The play explores themes of love, jealousy, and identity within the African American community.

Although the play was not published or performed during their lifetimes due to a dispute between the two authors, it was rediscovered and published in 1991, showcasing their literary partnership and creative contributions.

1935 – “Mulatto” premieres on Broadway

In 1935, Langston Hughes’s play “Mulatto” premiered on Broadway. The play explores themes of biracial identity, colorism, and the complexities of race relations in America.

It became a significant contribution to the Harlem Renaissance, receiving critical acclaim for its powerful portrayal of racial tensions and its nuanced characters.

“Mulatto” ran for over 300 performances, making it the longest-running African American-authored play on Broadway at that time.

1940 – Publishes his autobiography, “The Big Sea”

In 1940, Langston Hughes published his autobiography, “The Big Sea.” The book chronicles his early life, experiences, and literary journey up until that point. It provides insights into his childhood, travels, and encounters with prominent figures of the Harlem Renaissance.

“The Big Sea” offers a captivating and personal account of Hughes’s life, shedding light on his struggles, aspirations, and his role within the broader cultural and social context of the time.

1949 – “Harlem” premieres off-Broadway

In 1949, Langston Hughes’s play “Harlem” premiered off-Broadway. It is a collection of interconnected poems and vignettes that explore the dreams, frustrations, and aspirations of African Americans living in Harlem.

“Harlem” captures the essence of the neighborhood during the Harlem Renaissance, painting a vivid picture of its vibrant culture, struggles, and the hopes of its residents. The play was well-received and contributed to Hughes’s enduring legacy as a leading figure in African American literature.

1953 – Travels to Africa and Europe

In 1953, Langston Hughes embarked on a journey to Africa and Europe. During this trip, he visited countries such as Nigeria, Senegal, Ghana, and France, among others.

The experience provided Hughes with a deeper understanding of African culture, heritage, and the connections between Africa and the African diaspora.

It also exposed him to different political movements and anti-colonial struggles, influencing his writing and activism upon his return to the United States.

1967 – Co-founds the Black Arts Movement

In 1967, Langston Hughes co-founded the Black Arts Movement. This artistic and cultural movement aimed to empower and uplift Black communities through art, literature, music, and theater.

The movement sought to challenge white supremacy and redefine the African American identity, celebrating Black culture, history, and self-expression.

Hughes played a crucial role in fostering and inspiring a new generation of Black artists and writers, leaving a lasting impact on the cultural and social landscape of the time.

1969 – Passes away on May 22 in New York City

On May 22, 1969, Langston Hughes passed away in New York City at the age of 65. His death marked the end of a remarkable literary career and left a significant void in the African American literary and cultural landscape.

Hughes had been a prominent voice in African American literature for several decades, and his passing was felt deeply by his readers, fellow writers, and the broader community.

In his passing, Hughes left behind a substantial body of work that continues to be celebrated and studied for its contribution to African American literature and the Harlem Renaissance.

His poetry collections, such as “The Weary Blues” and “Montage of a Dream Deferred,” remain influential and beloved. His writings continue to resonate with readers from diverse backgrounds, offering insights into the African American experience and advocating for social change.