Instructor Date Poet Hughes life and “My Contribution to Poetry” One of the most famous American poets in time is James Mercer Langston Hughes. He is attributed as one of the early innovators of jazz poetry. Hughes came from an interesting background…
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Biography James Mercer Langston Hughes was born on 1 February 1902 in Joplin, Missouri. He was the second child to Caroline (Carrie) Mercer Langston and James Nathaniel Hughes. Hughes mother worked as a teacher. Langston had a rough childhood. One of the experiences that greatly bore on him was the divorce of his parents. Upon divorce, Langston’s father left for Cuba and later settled in Mexico. He sought to escape racism that was rampant in the United States of America (West 160). After his parents separated, Langston stayed back with his mother. However, his mother travelled a lot in search for employment. As a result, Langston grew in a number of Midwestern towns. Langston’s maternal grandmother, Mary Patterson Langston, played a major part in raising young Langston Hughes. She was of great influence to young Langston in matters relating to racial pride, which she drew from black American oral tradition and activist experiences. Langston stayed with his grandmother in Lawrence, Kansas, where he spent a better part of his childhood. Upon the death of his grandmother, Hughes moved in with his family friends, James and Mary Reed. He stayed with them for two years but later moved in with his mother in Lincoln, Illinois. Carrie remarried while Hughes was an adolescent. This made them move to Cleveland, Ohio where he attended high school. Their home was auctioned in February 1918 for $16,667. Since Hughes spent most of his childhood away from his father, they had a poor relationship. He lived with him for a short period in 1919. After graduating from high school, Hughes moved back in with his father in 1920. He hoped to convince his father to allow him to attend Columbia University. Hughes’ father had a dislike for Negroes and hoped that his son would study abroad. He was willing to support his son financially had Hughes agreed to do away with his ambition as a writer and pursue engineering. Hughes and his father came to a compromise that he would undertake engineering at Columbia University. After a two-year stay at the university, Hughes left due to racial prejudice. To earn a living, Hughes worked various odd jobs. At one time, he worked as a crewmember aboard the S.S Malone. Working on this ship saw him spend six months travelling partly to West Africa and Europe. He returned to the United States and secured a white-collar job working at the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. He served as a personal assistant to Carter G. Woodson. The job was too demanding for him, as it did not give him enough time to pursue his writing. Consequently, he quit the job and got another job as a busboy at the Wardman Park Hotel. It is at this place that he met the poet Vachel Lindsay. Lindsay was impressed by Hughes’ work and went ahead to publicize his discovery of Hughes as a poet. Some of Hughes earlier work was already published in magazines and was about to compile them into his first book of poetry. Hughes went ahead to enroll in Lincoln University which was synonymous with blacks in Chester county, Pennsylvania. Upon completing his B.A degree from Lincoln University in 1929, he went back to New York. He did a few travels to the Soviet Union and the Caribbean but spent a better part of his adulthood in Harlem. Controversy looms over Hughes’s sexuality. Some people such as Arnold Rampersand, Hughes primary biographers believe that he exuded homosexual tendencies in his poems thus belief that he preferred African American men (p.69). Hughes died on May 22, 1967.
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