The great American poet, novelist, playwright, short story writer, and columnist LANGSTON HUGHES was born in Joplin, Missouri. Hughes is known for his work during the Harlem Renaissance.
Academics and biographers today acknowledge that Hughes was a homosexual and included homosexual codes in many of his poems, similar in manner to Walt Whitman, whose work Hughes cited as another influence on his poetry, and most patently in the short story Blessed Assurance which deals with a father’s anger over his son’s effeminacy and queerness. It has been noted that to retain the respect and support of black churches and organizations and avoid exacerbating his precarious financial situation, Hughes remained closeted. Arnold Rampersad, the primary biographer of Hughes, determined that Hughes exhibited a preference for other African American men in his work and life. This love of black men is evidenced in a number of reported unpublished poems to a black male lover.
On May 22, 1967, Hughes died at the age of 65 from complications after abdominal surgery. His ashes are interred beneath a floor medallion in the middle of the foyer leading to the auditorium named for him within the Arthur Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem. The design on the floor covering his cremated remains is an African cosmogram titled “Rivers.” The title is taken from the poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” by Hughes. Within the center of the cosmogram and precisely above the ashes of Hughes are the words “My soul has grown deep like the rivers.”