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Langston Hughes House

Langston Hughes portrait
Photo by Carl Van Vechten Photographs courtesy of Library of Congress: LOT 12735, no. 539

The Langston Hughes House is historically significant as the home of James Langston Hughes (1902-1967), author and poet and one of the foremost figures in the Harlem Renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance was a literary movement of the 1920s-30s that focused on the question of African American identity. Born in Joplin, Missouri, the son of James Nathaniel Hughes and Carrie Mercer Langston Hughes, James and his family moved frequently when he was young; he attended grammar school in Lincoln, Illinois, and high school in Cleveland, Ohio. The year 1921 was a crucial one for Hughes. He traveled to Mexico to be with his father, who worked for an electric company in Toluca, Mexico. He taught English in two Mexican schools and published his first prose piece, “Mexican Games” in The Brownies Book and his now famous 'The Negro Speaks of Rivers’ in The Crisis. In 1921 Hughes left Mexico for New York to attend Columbia University. Although he remained at Columbia for a year, later continuing his studies at Lincoln University in Philadelphia, Hughes’ days at Columbia were crucial to his future. It was during this time he established friendships with young writers who were participants in the Harlem Renaissance and who would greatly influence his writing. He voyaged to Europe and Africa in 1922 and 1923 and in 1924 returned to the United States to live with his mother in Washington, D.C. In 1925 the “busboy poet” was discovered by Vachel Lindsay, an American poet. Hughes' book about the blues and jazz scene, The Weary Blues, was published in 1926. In order to understand race relations under communism he spent a year in the Soviet Union in 1932, although he never joined the Communist Party himself. Later in life he veered away from radical politics, but did advise the up and coming African American writers and poets of the 1960s, who looked on him with respect. Hughes served as the Madrid correspondent for the Baltimore Afro-American in 1937.

Langston Hughes House
Photo courtesy of caribbeanfreephoto on Flickr

Although frequently away, he always returned to Harlem. His poetry and prose are dominated by images of Harlem. Nicknamed the “Poet-Laureate of Harlem” Hughes depicts Harlem best in his most notable volume of verse, Montage of a Dream Deferred (1951.) In early works he emphasized blues forms, but stylistically he grew to embrace the ballad form, dance rhythms, and jazz forms. He was a pioneer in the poetry-to-jazz movement. Although he is primarily considered a poet, Hughes was also a prolific novelist, playwright, and songwriter. He also established the Harlem Suitcase Theater in 1935, a showcase for plays by African American writers with African American actors, directors, and production staff. Among the honors accorded him were the Anisfeld-Wolfe Award in 1953 for the year’s best book on race relations and the Springarn medal in 1960. He was elected to the National Institute for Arts and Letters in 1961. Langston Hughes died in May 22, 1967 in New York City.


Misery is when you heard
on the radio that the neighborhood
you live in is a slum but
you always thought it was home.

- Langston Hughes

The house on East 127th Street in Harlem where he lived the last 20 years of his life is the only residence he occupied for any significant length of time and is the most tangible symbol of his association with Harlem, so vital to his literary career. The Langston Hughes House, a rowhouse which is 20 feet wide and 45 feet deep, is three stories high above a basement and is faced with brownstone. It occupies an East Harlem block with similar rowhouses. Built in 1869, the house was designed in the Italianate style by architect Alexander Wilson, typical of rowhouses built in Harlem during the period shortly after the Civil War. The Langston Hughes House was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on October 29, 1982.

The Langston Hughes House is located at 20 East 127th Street, Harlem, NY. You can visit the website for more information or call 212-927-3413.

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