Faces of the Harlem Renaissance

Langston Hughes

1902-1967 / Poet, novelist, playwright, essayist

Lauded as the "Poet Laureate of Harlem" in the 1920s, Langston Hughes was one of the first African Americans to earn a living solely as a writer. Hughes was known mainly for his poetry. But he also wrote plays, novels, a wealth of nonfiction pieces, and even an opera.

In his explorations of race, social justice, and African-American culture and art, Hughes' writing vividly captures the political, social, and artistic climates of Harlem in the 1920s and 1930s.

After a transitory adolescence, Hughes moved to Harlem in 1926, where he worked with and befriended such artists, writers, and scholars as Aaron Douglas, Countee Cullen, and Alain Locke. Infused and inspired by the jazz and blues that surrounded him at hot spots such as the Savoy Ballroom, Hughes weaved the rhythms of contemporary music into his poems. Often his writing riffed on the energy of life in Harlem itself.

In his path-breaking poem "The Weary Blues," singled out for a literary award by Opportunity magazine in 1924, Langston Hughes combined black vernacular speech with blues rhythms, breaking from traditional literary forms. The recognition encouraged Hughes to publish his first collection of poetry, likewise entitled The Weary Blues.