Washburn professor: Langston Hughes was year older than records say

photo by: AP File Photo

This March 26, 1953 file photo shows poet and author Langston Hughes speaking before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in Washington, D.C.

TOPEKA — A professor in Kansas says that poet Langston Hughes may have been born a year earlier that what’s on record.

Hughes is commonly thought to have been born in 1902, spending his childhood in Topeka and Lawrence, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

But Washburn University professor Eric McHenry said he unearthed evidence that Hughes was actually born a year earlier. He said a black newspaper called The Plaindealer had an entry from 1901 that indicated “Little Langston Hughes” was under the weather but improving.

The “ephemeral gossip” made a “vibrant historic record,” said McHenry, who teaches creative writing and poetry.

McHenry said such a change can tell more about Hughes and the time he lived in, though its significance is an ongoing mystery.

Hughes began school in 1908. One theory McHenry has is that Hughes’ mother may have intentionally enrolled him a year later so that he was physically and developmentally ahead of his classmates at the white Topeka school he attended. The second theory is that Hughes reinvented himself as being a year younger when he moved to Cleveland, Ohio, in high school.

There is no evidence Hughes acknowledged the difference in his birth year.

“It’s really interesting to speculate about,” McHenry said.

Hughes began writing poetry as a child and became a distinguished figure in the Harlem Renaissance, writing now-famous poems such as “I, Too” and “Dream Deferred.” He also published fiction, nonfiction and plays. He died in 1967.


Welcome to the new LJWorld.com. Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.