Langston Hughes is born in Joplin, Missouri, to James Nathaniel Hughes and Caroline Mercer Langston. Hughes's parents split up when he is very young, and his father moves to Mexico. For most of his childhood, Langston lives with his grandmother in Kansas and then with family friends while his mother travels in search of work.
Hughes moves to Lincoln, Illinois, to live with his now-remarried mother and stepfather.
Langston Hughes graduates from primary school and is elected class poet. Soon after, his family settles in Cleveland, Ohio.
Langston Hughes graduates from high school in Cleveland and moves to Mexico to be with his father. On the train to see him, Hughes pens the poem "The Negro Speaks of Rivers." While Hughes is in Mexico, Hughes's father agrees to fund his education at Columbia University, on the grounds that Hughes study engineering in college.
Though Hughes loves the vibrant arts and social scene in Harlem, he is disappointed by the racial discrimination he encounters in college. Hughes leaves Columbia University after just one year.
Hughes gets a job aboard the S.S. Malone and, for six months, travels by freighter to West Africa and Europe. He works briefly as a cook in Paris.
Hughes moves to Washington, D.C. While bussing tables at the Wardman Park Hotel, Hughes notices the poet Vachel Lindsay dining in the restaurant and slips some of his poems on Lindsay's table. Lindsay puts the young poet in touch with editors at Knopf.
Hughes's second poetry collection, Fine Clothes to the Jew, is published.
Hughes receives a Bachelor of Arts degree from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, which he attended on scholarship. He then moves back to New York City, his home for the rest of his life.
Not Without Laughter, Hughes's debut novel, is published. It earns Hughes the Harmon Gold Medal for Literature.
Hughes travels with a group of African-American artists to the Soviet Union, to make a film about the black experience in the United States. The film is never completed but, like many black intellectuals of the period, Hughes is drawn to communism as an alternative to the racial prejudice prevalent in the United States.
The Ways of White Folks, Hughes' first short story collection, is published. This same year, his father passes away.
Hughes's mother dies. He also covers the Spanish Civil War as a foreign correspondent for the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper. Legend has it that Hughes befriends fellow correspondent Ernest Hemingway, and the two writers attend bullfights together.
Hughes establishes the Harlem Suitcase Theater, a showcase for black American drama in New York City.
Hughes establishes the New Negro Theater in Los Angeles. He co-writes the screenplay for his first film, Way Down South.
Langston Hughes is awarded the Rosenwald Fellowship, a prize given to talented African-American scholars.
Hughes founds Skyloft Players, a theater in Chicago.
Hughes's alma mater, Lincoln University, awards him an honorary doctorate of letters.
Langston Hughes is elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters, a 250-member organization whose self-described goal is to "foster, assist, and sustain excellence in American literature, music, and art."
Hughes's poetry collection Field of Wonder is published. Hughes accepts a one-year appointment as a visiting professor of creative writing at Atlanta University.
Hughes begins a one-year appointment as a visiting lecturer at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools.
The poetry collection Montage of a Dream Deferred is published. It contains the famous poem, "Harlem," which begins, "What happens to a dream deferred?"
Hughes publishes the short story collection Laughing to Keep From Crying.
Hughes is called before Senator Joseph McCarthy's Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and is questioned about his previous involvement with communism. Hughes later distances himself from communism and his radical poetry, which prompts criticism from some on the left.
Hughes's book Simple Takes a Wife is published. It is one of several books written from the point of view of his comic fictional character Jesse B. Simple, a Harlem resident who frequently appears in Hughes's columns. The book receives the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, which honors writing that tackles racism and diversity.
Hughes receives the Spingarn Medal from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, for outstanding achievement by a black American.
Hughes is elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Langston Hughes dies of complications from prostate cancer. The New York City Preservation Commission later makes his home at 20 East 127th Street a city landmark.