Born in Joplin, Missouri, he attended Columbia University in 1921, but left to participate in the more lively activity in nearby Harlem. He was celebrated early on as a young poet of the Harlem Renaissance; his poetry appeared in The Crisis (1923-4) and was included in Alain Locke's important anthology The New Negro (1925). With the support of Carl Van Vechten, he published his first volume, The Weary Blues, in 1926, and in the same year wrote a critical essay for The Nation, ‘The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain’. His second volume of poetry, Fine Clothes To The Jew, appeared in 1927, and his first novel, Not Without Laughter, in 1930.
During the 1930s Hughes embraced radical politics, publishing a collection of satiric short stories, The Ways Of White Folks (1934). In two later collections, Laughing To Keep From Crying (1952) and Something In Common (1963), he again highlights the absurdities inherent in racial prejudice. His play, The Mulatto, was produced on Broadway in 1935, and he founded black theatre groups in Harlem, Chicago and Los Angeles. His drama is collected in Five Plays (1963). Other volumes of his poetry include Shakespeare In Harlem (1942), Fields Of Wonder (1947), Montage Of A Dream Deferred (1951), and Ask Your Mama (1961). He published two autobiographies: The Big Sea (1940) and I Wonder As I Wander (1956). He also wrote numerous books, essays and articles on social, historical and musical subjects, and edited collections of black folklore, poetry and stories. In the latter part of his life he devoted his creative energies to writing the ‘Simple Stories’, which involve a seemingly slow-witted black character who always out-smarts his antagonists: Simple Speaks His Mind (1950), Simple Takes A Wife (1953), Simple Stakes A Claim (1957) and Simple's Uncle (1965). His second novel, Tambourines To Glory, was published in 1958.
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