Hughes first began to write poetry after one of his high school teachers introduced him to some of the great American poets. He was a regular contributor to his school's literary magazine, and frequently submitted to other poetry magazines.
Hughes graduated from high school in 1920. Around this time, Hughes's poem "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" was published in The Crisis magazine and was highly praised. Hughes left the United States and spend some time in Mexico. In 1921, after returning to the states, he enrolled at Columbia University where he studied briefly, and during which time he became a part of Harlem's growing cultural movement, commonly known as the Harlem Renaissance.
In 1929, Hughes published his first novel, Not Without Laughter. The book was commercially successful enough to convince Hughes that he could make a living as a writer. During the 1930s, Hughes would frequently travel the United States on lecture tours. Over the next two decades, he published countless other works, including several books in his "Simple" series. He died on May 22, 1967, but his work continues to be published and translated throughout the world.