1. Although he was born in Missouri, the “Poet Laureate of Harlem,” Langston Hughes (1901-1967), lived in Illinois for most of his childhood. He spent his childhood living with his grandmother while his divorced mother traveled around the country in search of stable work.
2. Hughes’ grandmother, Mary Langston, not only housed her young grandson, but was also largely responsible for instilling a yearning to create within him. She was the very first Black woman to attend Oberlin College, a liberal arts college in Ohio.
3. He enrolled at Columbia University and studied mechanical engineering under the influence of his father. However, the rising poet did not graduate from the prestigious university. He departed from the school after experiencing racial prejudice and finished his degree at Lincoln University.
4. Although most well-known for his poems, Hughes was more than just a poet. Hughes also wrote short stories, novels, dramas, songs, journalistic stories, and more.
5. Because of his far-left political leanings, Hughes was called to testify before the US Congress. He was asked to explain the meaning of some of his works, such as “One More ‘S’ in the U.S.A.” Hughes’ subsequent works were less politically charged as a result of this experience.
6. Hughes was among the pioneers of jazz poetry, an experimental style of verse that was coupled with jazz and blues progressions. In this trailblazing endeavor, Hughes collaborated with famous musicians, such as Thelonious Monk and Charles Mingus.
7. Arguably his most famous poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” was written as he was on board a train to visit his father. Though Hughes was only a teenager at the inception of the poem, the words he jotted down would define his career. The line, “My soul has grown deep like the rivers,” is featured on his epitaph.
8. Hughes was a frequent traveler. He spent a large sum of time in Spain serving as a correspondent for the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper and also traveled to various countries such as Cuba, Italy, Haiti, Mexico, Holland, and France.
9. He was given numerous awards and honors. He received three honorary doctorates from Lincoln University, Howard University, and Western Reserve University, respectively. He also earned the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and has a professorship established in his name at the University of Kansas.
10. Hughes died on May 22, 1967, after suffering from postoperative complications from prostate cancer. He was 65-years-old.