Hughes work, which was a significant part of the Harlem Renaissance ran from poetry, social activism, novels, plays, and working as a columnist. His innovative poetry was referred to as "jazz Poetry."
Hughes was born on February 1, 1902 in Joplin, Missouri.
Hughes moved to New York in 1921 in order to attend Columbia University to study engineering. This was a compromise as Hughes's father wanted him to attend college abroad, and study engineering. Hughes wanted to further his interest in poetry and writing at Columbia. His father agreed to pay for Hughe's studies, based upon this compromise. Hughes, more interested in the neighbourhood of Harlem than his studies, and because of the possible racial prejudice he experienced, left Columbia in 1922 with a B+ average.
Upon leaving Columbia University, Highes took odd jobs, including working as a crewman on the S.S. Malone. This lead Hughes to spend six months travelling Europe and West Africa.
Upon returning to the US, and moving around within the US, Hughes attended Lincoln University, in Pennsylvania, graduating with a BA in 1929 (Thurgood Marshall, a fellow alumnus, graduated a year later in 1930). In 1943, the same school awarded Hughes an honorary Litt.D.
Hughes then returned to New York, and aside from trips to the USSR and the Caribbean and a brief residency in Westfield NJ in the 1930's, stayed in the city until his death.