Langston Hughes was born February 1, 1902, in Joplin, Missouri. The son of divorced parents, Hughes moved around a lot during much of his childhood and began writing poetry during high school. After graduating, he lived in Mexico with his father briefly before attending Columbia University for a year, withdrawing due to racial prejudice. After working odd jobs and traveling, he eventually graduated from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in 1929 and wrote extensively over a forty-year period.
A key influence of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, Hughes wrote not only poetry, but also prose, plays, short stories, and novels. He won the Harmon gold medal for his first novel, Not Without Laughter, in 1930, and focused much of his work on the Black American experience in New York, paying most careful attention to the struggles of the lower economic class. An innovator of jazz poetry, Hughes was one of the first poets to adapt the rhythmic musical style of the time and transform it into written form. He was proud of his racial heritage and sought to inspire, encourage and uplift his fellow African-Americans during a time of cultural tension. He is known not only for his own work, but also for his influence on literary successors like Loraine Hansberry, who wrote the play A Raisin in the Sun, based on Hughes’ poem “A Dream Deferred.”