James Mercer Langston Hughes (February 1, 1902 – May 22, 1967) was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist. He was one of the earliest innovators of the then-new literary art form jazz poetry. Hughes is best known for his work during the Harlem Renaissance. He famously wrote about the period that “Harlem was in vogue”[cite this quote].
Ancestry and childhood
Both of Hughes’ paternal and maternal great-grandmothers were African-American, his maternal great-grandfather was white and of Scottish descent. A paternal great-grandfather was of European Jewish descent. Hughes’s maternal grandmother Mary Patterson was of African-American, French, English and Native American descent. One of the first women to attend Oberlin College, she first married Lewis Sheridan Leary, also of mixed race. Lewis Sheridan Leary subsequently joined John Brown’s Raid on Harper’s Ferry in 1859 and died from his wounds.
In 1869 the widow Mary Patterson Leary married again, into the elite, politically active Langston family. Her second husband was Charles Henry Langston, of African American, Native American, and Euro-American ancestry. He and his younger brother John Mercer Langston worked for the abolitionist cause and helped lead the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society  in 1858. Charles Langston later moved to Kansas, where he was active as an educator and activist for voting and rights for African Americans. Charles and Mary’s daughter Caroline was the mother of Langston Hughes.
Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri, the second child of school teacher Carrie (Caroline) Mercer Langston and James Nathaniel Hughes (1871–1934). Langston Hughes grew up in a series of Midwestern small towns.
Hughes’s father left his family and later divorced Carrie, going to Cuba, and then Mexico, seeking to escape the enduring racism in the United States. After the separation of his parents, while his mother travelled seeking employment, young Langston Hughes was raised mainly by his maternal grandmother, Mary Patterson Langston, in Lawrence, Kansas. Through the black American oral tradition and drawing from the activist experiences of her generation, Mary Langston instilled in the young Langston Hughes a lasting sense of racial pride. He spent most of his childhood in Lawrence, Kansas. After the death of his grandmother, he went to live with family friends, James and Mary Reed, for two years. Because of the unstable early life, his childhood was not an entirely happy one, but it strongly influenced the poet he would become. Later, Hughes lived again with his mother Carrie in Lincoln, Illinois. She had remarried when he was still an adolescent, and eventually they lived in Cleveland, Ohio, where he attended high school. The Hughes’ home in Cleveland was sold in foreclosure in 1918; the 2.5-story, wood-frame house on the city’s east side was sold at a sheriff’s auction in February for $16,667.
While in grammar school in Lincoln, Hughes was elected class poet. Hughes stated that in retrospect he thought it was because of the stereotype that African Americans have rhythm. “I was a victim of a stereotype. There were only two of us Negro kids in the whole class and our English teacher was always stressing the importance of rhythm in poetry. Well, everyone knows, except us, that all Negroes have rhythm, so they elected me as class poet.” During high school in Cleveland, Ohio, he wrote for the school newspaper, edited the yearbook, and began to write his first short stories, poetry, and dramatic plays. His first piece of jazz poetry, “When Sue Wears Red”, was written while he was in high school. It was during this time that he discovered his love of books. From this early period in his life, Hughes would cite as influences on his poetry the American poets Paul Laurence Dunbar and Carl Sandburg.
Find out more about Langston Hughes at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Langston_Hughes
- Langston Hughes – LGBT History Month (nwaequality.org)
- Langston Hughes revealed a utopian dream (atung.net)
- Langston Hughes celebrations around Seattle (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Morning Writing Exercise – Creative Larceny – Write a Cento (thenightlypoem.com)
My Take (explaining the picture):
If the background seem to you dark blue, it is because around a deffered dream there is the feeling of being deep under water, with no hope of ever be breathing again.
If the lettering appears to you unclear, foggy, is because a dream, that cannot be touched, keeps coming back in memory, sticks around, feels like it wets your very bones, while at the same time looses some of its clarity. The core, the essential, is still there though, ready to burst into existence.