Langston Hughes


'My soul has grown deep like the rivers'


Langston Hughes' ashes are buried under a medallion in the foyer of the Schomburg Library of African American Culture, Harlem, New York, USA. The design is entitled Rivers and the words are taken from Hughes' poem The Negro Speaks of Rivers.

Memorial for Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes was born in Joplin Missouri. His mother was a school teacher and his father was a storekeeper - however they separated when he was young and he was cared for by his maternal grandmother while his mother searched for work

After his graduation from Central High School in Cleveland he attended Columbia University for a year (where he studied engineeering). Hughes held a variety of low paid jobs, including seaman on trips to Europe and America.

While working as a busboy at the Wardman Park Hotel he encountered  Vachel Lindsay who was dining there at the time. Hughes placed some of his typed poems next to Lindsay's plate. At first, the poet was annoyed but then started to read them and asked: 'Who wrote these?' with Hughes replying: 'I did.' Lindsay was so impressed that he introduced Hughes to publishers who accepted his work. His first book, The Weary Blues, was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1925.

Hughes was one of the early exponents of Jazz Poetry and was one of the first (modern) poets to recite his poetry to music. However, it was (Nicholas) Vachel Lindsay that was credited with inventing Jazz Poetry. Hughes worked with the famous double bassist Charlie Mingus.

Hughes embarked on a second course at the more racially integrated Lincoln University with the help of a scholarship and was able to complete a BA degree - graduating in 1929.

Much of his artistic life was centered around Harlem and it provided much of the material for his poetry. Two of his famous poems were set there namely  Harlem (Dream Deferred) (1951) and Night Funeral in Harlem. Hughes was a significant contributor to the Harlem Renaissance.

He never married and, like his mentor Walt Whitman, was probably homosexual. Hughes' poetry portrayed the lives of working-class blacks and evidenced  their struggles, their joys and their music. He also wrote plays, novels, short stories and essays. He was part of the 1960s Black Power movement but found many of the yonger black writers too aggressive in their stance. He was instumental in helping many younger black writers including Alice Walker the author of The Color Purple.

He was also influenced by Carl Sandburg and Paul Lawrence Dunbar.

He died in the Polyclinic Hospital at the age of 65.

I 've known rivers
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
        went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy
        bosom turn all golden in the sunset....

(From The Weary Blues)





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