Langston Hughes (1902-1967), one of the 20th century's most accomplished writers, lived in and was inspired by Washington, DC. In poems and prose he chronicled the lives of blacks, particularly the poor and working class. He was born James Mercer Langston Hughes in Joplin, Missouri, named after his great uncle, Congressman and lawyer John Mercer Langston. Hughes was on the move most of his life throughout the United States, Europe, Africa, and Central America. He had multiple jobs — seaman, dishwasher, researcher, and busboy — to support himself as he pursued his art: depicting and celebrating the lives of African Americans.

Hughes moved to Washington in 1924 to live with his mother. While here, he worked as a researcher for Carter G. Woodson and as a busboy at the Wardman Park Hotel. He also worked for Washington Sentinel newspaper. Hughes attended poet Georgia Douglas Johnson's literary salons three blocks away on S Street. His 1940 memoir The Big Sea describes his experiences as a struggling poet confronting "Washington Society." He also wrote "Our Wonderful Society, Washington" for the August 1927 issue of Opportunity magazine in which he criticized Washington's "best" people as snobs who were obsessed with symbols of wealth, gradations of skin color, and "Nordic" culture. He preferred to spend time among the "ordinary Negroes" along Seventh Street, whose folk culture inspired his first book of poetry, Weary Blues (1926).

Hughes also lived at the 12th Street YMCA for a short time.


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