In 1937 he served as a war correspondent for several American newspapers during the Spanish Civil War. In 1940, Hughes’ autobiography up to age 28, The Big Sea, was published. Also around this time, Hughes began contributing a column to the Chicago Defender, for which he created a comic character named Jesse B. Semple, better known as “Simple,” a black Everyman that Hughes used to further explore urban, working-class black themes, and to address racial issues. The columns were highly successful, and “Simple” would later be the focus of several of Hughes’ books and plays. In the late 1940s, Hughes contributed the lyrics for a Broadway musical titled Street Scene, which featured music by Kurt Weill. The success of the musical would earn Hughes enough money that he was finally able to buy a house in Harlem. Around this time, he also taught creative writing at Atlanta University and was a guest lecturer at a university in Chicago for several months. Over the next two decades, Hughes would continue his prolific output. In 1949 he wrote a play that inspired the opera Troubled Island and published yet another anthology of work, The Poetry of the Negro. In 1951 Hughes published one of his most celebrated poems, “Harlem (What happens to a dream deferred?’),” discussing how the American Dream falls short for African Americans.
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
Like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags
Like a heavy load. Or does it explode? During the 1950s and 1960s, he published countless other works, including several books in his “Simple” series, English translations of the poetry of Federico García Lorca and Gabriela Mistral, another anthology of his own poetry, and the second installment of his autobiography, I Wonder as I Wander. James Mercer Langston Hughes was born on February 1, 1902, in Joplin, Missouri. His parents, James Hughes and Carrie Langston, separated soon after his birth, and his father moved to Mexico.