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Hughes and Parks: Renaissance Men

Langston Hughes and Gordon Parks are among the most famous artistic luminaries with Kansas roots. Both produced creative work that shed light on civil rights issues, poverty, and African American life in the United States. What many people may not be aware of, however, is that these two artists were also friends and collaborators. Hughes + Parks is a new exhibition at the Gordon Parks Museum in Fort Scott exploring the friendship and legacy of these two famous Kansans. Supported by an HK Humanities For All grant, the exhibition will help kick off the twentieth annual Gordon Parks Celebration happening October 5-7, 2023.

Langston Hughes (1901-1967) was raised primarily in Lawrence and is known for his poetry and as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance. Hughes is widely considered one of the most important writers of the twentieth century for, among many other contributions, his innovative jazz poetry and his unflinching discussion of racism. Watch Hughes recite “The Weary Blues” with a jazz accompaniment in 1958.


Born in Fort Scott, Gordon Parks (1912-2006) was a Renaissance man – a photographer and film director as well as a writer and composer. Parks is perhaps best known for his photography exploring poverty, racism, and the social condition of the United States in the mid-twentieth century. He viewed his camera as a weapon against poverty and injustice. Parks was also a pioneering filmmaker who directed Shaft (1971), which helped give rise to the Blaxploitation film genre, and The Learning Tree (1969), his semi-autobiographical novel and film. Watch the trailer for The Learning Tree.


The Hughes + Parks exhibition will explore the connections between these two “giants of the field of the arts,” according to Kirk Sharp, director of the Gordon Parks Museum. Langston Hughes and Gordon Parks collaborated for the first time in Chicago during the production of Hughes’ play Shakespeare in Harlem. During that time, Parks photographed Hughes, and they developed a close friendship.

Not only will the exhibition highlight the careers and lives of these two men, it will also explore their local connections, keeping their stories alive to inspire and educate future generations of Kansans.

The new exhibition will debut at the Gordon Parks Celebration on October 5-7, 2023. Other festivities include presentations by artists and scholars, photography and poetry contest exhibitions, an open mic event, the unveiling of the new “Free to Serve” mural, and more. Most events are free, but tickets are required for the Celebration Dance Party on Friday and the Celebration Tribute Dinner on Saturday. More information is available at


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Photo Credits: 

Parks, G., photographer. (1943) Portrait of Langston Hughes. United States, 1943. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

Katz, N. L., photographer. Gordon Parks. , None. [October 1991 printed between 2018 and 2021] [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,


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