As a poet, novelist and critic, Langston Hughes helped shape the Harlem Renaissance. He became the first black American to earn his living by writing and giving public lectures. He wrote a series of books about a man named Simple and contributed to the Chicago Defender and New York Post.
Langston spent one year in Mexico and one year at Columbia University in New York City after graduating from high school. He published his book of poetry, "The Weary Blues," in 1936, earned a college degree three years later and won the Harmon gold medal for literature for his first novel, "Not Without Laughter." Before starting his literary career, he worked as an assistant cook, launderer, truck farmer, doorman at a nightclub in Paris and sailor while traveling to West Africa, Holland, France and Italy.
He never admitted to being gay, though he hinted at it in his writing. His "Café: 3 A.M." chronicles what happens during a police raid on a gay bar. After his death in 1967, the New York City Preservation Commission designated his home in Harlem as a landmark and renamed East 127 Street as Langston Hughes Place. His ashes are interred in the foyer of the Langston Hughes Auditorium at Harlem's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Two collections of children's poetry, "The Block" and "The Sweet and Sour Animal Book," were released after his death. These books pair his poems with visual art and contain poems he wrote in the early 1930s.