08.09.2018

Langston Hughes Just Got a Year Older

Langston Hughes Just Got a Year Older Robert W. Kelley/The LIFE Picture Collection, via Getty Images

Few poets can claim a final resting place as, well, poetic as Langston Hughes. His ashes are buried under the floor of the lobby of the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, beneath a mosaic cosmogram that includes lines from his classic poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.”

Hughes, a leading light of the Harlem Renaissance whose work aimed to capture the whole of the African-American experience, was only 18 when he wrote that poem.

Or was he?

Recently, a writer’s casual online search for one of his own ancestors accidentally led to a wealth of unknown documentation of Hughes’s early life, including evidence of a different birth year.

Here’s a look at one example of how digitized newspaper databases are throwing open new doors of discovery — and at what difference that year might actually make.

For the full story, visit NYTimes.com/Arts.