Portrait of Langston Hughes, Feb. 29, 1936; by Carl Van Vechten, Library of Congress.
In Langston Hughes's poetry, he uses the rhythms of African American music, particularly blues and jazz. This sets his poetry apart from that of other writers, and it allowed him to experiment with a very rhythmic free verse. Hughes's second volume of poetry, Fine Clothes to the Jew (1927), was not well received at the time of its publication because it was too experimental. Now, however, many critics believe the volume to be among Hughes's finest work.
Langston Hughes returned to school in 1926, this time to the historically black Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. He was supported by a patron of the arts, a wealthy white woman in her seventies named Charlotte Osgood Mason. Mason directed Hughes's literary career, convincing him to write the novel Not Without Laughter; the two had a dispute in 1930, however, and the relationship came to an end. At this point in Hughes's life he turned to the political left and began to develop his interest in socialism. He published poetry in New Masses, a journal associated with the Communist Party, and in 1932 sailed to the Soviet Union with a group of young African Americans. Later in the 1930s, Hughes's primary writing was for the theater. His drama about miscegenation and the South - "Mulatto" - became the longest running Broadway play written by an African American until Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun" (1958).
Langston Hughes by Gordon Parks, 1943, Library of Congress
In 1942, during World War II, Hughes began writing a column for the African American newspaper, the Chicago Defender. In 1943 he introduced the character of Jesse B. Semple, or Simple, to his readers. This fictional everyman, while humorous, also allowed Hughes to discuss very serious racial issues. The Simple columns were also popular--and they ran for twenty years and were collected in several…