In 1932, Hughes traveled with a group of African-American artists to the Soviet Union to write a film about the treatment of black people in the United States. The film was never made but, like many African-American intellectuals in the 1930s, Hughes found himself drawn to communism, a party whose views on racial equality were more liberal than mainstream American politics. Though he never formally joined the Communist party, some of Hughes's poetry took on a radical tone, and he began exploring deeper—and often darker—issues in his writing.
Throughout his professional life, Hughes's creativity expressed itself in a wide range of genres. In 1934, he published the short story collection The Ways of White Folks, an at-times bitter reflection on race relations. He traveled to Spain to cover the civil war as a correspondent for the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper. With Zora Neale Hurston, he wrote The Mulatto, a play that dealt with issues of racial identity (the two writers, once close friends, split over a dispute on the play's authorship). He also founded three theater companies in the late 1930s and early 1940s, in Harlem, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Though few of Hughes's own plays were commercially successful, the companies became important outlets for other black actors and dramatists.
By World War II, Hughes's politics had drifted back toward the center.