Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri. He was a gay poet, writer, and editor. Together with gay African American poet and novelist Countee Cullen, he was an important figure in the Harlem literary Renaissance of the 1920s. He is known for the use of jazz and black folk rhythms in his poetry.
A prolific writer, he used almost every conceivable form to arrange his thoughts on paper: poems, songs, novels, plays, biographies, histories and essays. Hughes wrote in many genres, but he is best known for his poetry, in which he used musical rhythms and the oral and improvisatory traditions of black culture.
Hughes published his first and most quoted poem, The Negro Speaks of Rivers, in Crisis magazine in 1921, in wich is the verse: "I have known rivers: I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins. My soul has grown deep like the rivers."
In the 1920s he was a prominent figure during the Harlem Renaissance. In 1925, while working as a busboy in Washington, D.C., he left three of his poems beside the plate of American poet Vachel Lindsay, who recognized Hughes's abilities and subsequently helped to publicize his work.
He wrote the drama Mulatto (1935), which was performed on Broadway. Beginning in the 1930s, Hughes was active in social and political causes and used much of his poetry as a vehicle for social protest. His more than 50 books include Weary Blues (1926), Shakespeare in Harlem (1942), Simple Speaks His Mind (1950), Not Without Laughter, The Dream Keeper and Tambourines to Glory (1958).
Hugues never had a significant lover-relationship, though his poem "F.S." (1921) suggests otherwise, and his autobiographical writings briefly mention sex with men. Hugues wrote and published in all genres until his death but he never addressed homosexuality openly. His poems invite gay readings but his biographers disagree about his sexuality. He often said of his life,
"There are some things I don't tell nobody, not even God. He might know about them, but it certainly ain't because I told him.