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Langston Hughes Timeline

How It All Went Down

Feb 1, 1902

Langston Hughes Born

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.


Joins Mother in Lincoln

Hughes moves to Lincoln, Illinois, to live with his now-remarried mother and stepfather.


Family Moves to Cleveland

Langston Hughes graduates from primary school and is elected class poet. Soon after, his family settles in Cleveland, Ohio.

Jun 1920

Graduates From High School

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.


"The Negro Speaks of Rivers"

"The Negro Speaks of Rivers" is published in the NAACP journal Crisis.


Hughes Leaves Columbia

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.


S.S. Malone

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.

Nov 1924

Hughes Is Discovered

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.


The Weary Blues

Hughes's first book, a poetry collection entitled The Weary Blues, is published by Alfred A. Knopf publishing house.


Fine Clothes to the Jew

Hughes's second poetry collection, Fine Clothes to the Jew, is published.


Graduates from College

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

Not Without Laughter, Hughes's debut novel, is published. It earns Hughes the Harmon Gold Medal for Literature.


Works in the Soviet Union

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.


Father Dies

The Ways of White Folks, Hughes' first short story collection, is published. This same year, his father passes away.


Guggenheim Fellowship

Hughes is awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship. His play The Mulatto is his first to open on Broadway.


Mother Dies, Covers Spanish Civil War

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.


Harlem Suitcase Theater

Hughes establishes the Harlem Suitcase Theater, a showcase for black American drama in New York City.


New Negro Theater

Hughes establishes the New Negro Theater in Los Angeles. He co-writes the screenplay for his first film, Way Down South.


Rosenwald Fellowship

Langston Hughes is awarded the Rosenwald Fellowship, a prize given to talented African-American scholars.


Skyloft Players

Hughes founds Skyloft Players, a theater in Chicago.


Honorary Doctorate

Hughes's alma mater, Lincoln University, awards him an honorary doctorate of letters.


National Institute of Arts and 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."


Begins Teaching Career

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.


Teaches in Chicago

Hughes begins a one-year appointment as a visiting lecturer at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools.


Montage of a Dream Deferred

The poetry collection Montage of a Dream Deferred is published. It contains the famous poem, "Harlem," which begins, "What happens to a dream deferred?"


Laughing to Keep From Crying

Hughes publishes the short story collection Laughing to Keep From Crying.

Mar 26, 1953

Questioned by McCarthy

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.


Simple Takes a Wife

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.


Spingarn Medal

Hughes receives the Spingarn Medal from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, for outstanding achievement by a black American.


American Academy of Arts and Letters

Hughes is elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

May 22, 1967

Langston Hughes Dies

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.

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