African American Poetry (1870-1928): A Digital Anthology

Langston Hughes, Biographical Note, "Caroling Dusk" (1927)

LANGSTON HUGHES was born in Joplin, Missouri, on the first of February, 1902. His mother was a school teacher, his father a lawyer. During most of his childhood he lived with his grandmother in Lawrence, Kansas, where he went to school. This old lady, Mary Sampson Patterson Leary Langston, was the last surviving widow of John Brown's Raid, her first husband having been one of the five colored men to die so gloriously at Harper's Ferry. She had then married Charles Langston, brother of the Negro senator, John M. Langston, and in the seventies they came to Kansas where the mother of the poet was born.

When Langston Hughes was thirteen this grandmother died and the boy went to live with his mother in Lincoln, Illinois. A year later they moved to Cleveland where he attended and was graduated from the Central High School. Then followed fifteen months in Mexico where his father had been located for some years. Here the young man learned Spanish, taught English, and attended bull-fights. Here, too, he wrote “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” his first poem to be published in the magazines. In 1921 he went to New York for a year at Columbia University. A break with his father followed and he secured work for the summer on a truck farm on Staten Island. Then for almost two years he travelled as a member of the crew of freight steamers voyaging to the West Coast of Africa and Northern Europe. In February, 1924, he went to Paris. When he arrived he had seven dollars in his pockets; so he soon found a job as doorman in a Montmartre cabaret. Later he became second cook and pan-cake maker at the Grand Duc, a Negro night club where Buddy Gilmore sometimes played and Florence sang. That summer he went to Italy, and September learned Solocated teen months found him stranded in Genoa. He worked his way back to New York on a tramp steamer, painting and scrubbing decks.

A year in Washington followed where he worked in the office of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, and later as a bus boy at the Wardman Park Hotel. There Vachel Lindsay read some of his poems and he was discovered by the newspapers. Then his first book, The Weary Blues, appeared. He has now resumed his formal education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, which he says is a place of beauty and the ideal college for a poet. His second book of poems, Fine Clothes for the Jew, is a study in racial rhythms.

Lincoln University
April 13, 1927

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