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The Big Sea: An Autobiography (American Century Series) Paperback – August 1, 1993
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About the Author
Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri, went to Cleveland, Ohio, lived for a number of years in Chicago, and long resided in New York City's Harlem. He graduated from Lincoln University in 1929 and was awarded an honorary Litt. D. in 1943. He was perhaps best known as a poet and the creator of Simple, but he also wrote novels, biography, history, plays (several of them Broadway hits), and children's books, and he edited several anthologies. Mr. Hughes died in 1967.
Arnold Rampersad, author of the widely acclaimed biography The Life of Langston Hughes, is Woodrow Wilson Professor of Literature and director of American Studies at Princeton University.
Top Customer Reviews
I found it intriguing that such a wonderful writer struggled so. Much like Maya Angelou's books, this book left me with the feeling that truly great people can overcome tremendous obstacles to succeed. Also like Maya's books, this book made me realize that many of my own troubles pale to those of some very successful people.
Perhaps what I enjoyed most about this book was Hughes' reflection on Harlem, 1920s-1930s. His interaction with such greats as Van Vechten, Hurston, Thurman, and others was fascinating, leaving me wanting to know even more about 1920-30s life in Harlem.
I truly enjoyed this book
In between we learn about his education, both in and out of the classroom. His Jewish friends at Central High in Cleveland "were almost all interested in more than basketball and the glee club. They took me to hear Eugene Debs. And when the Russian Revolution broke out, our school almost held a celebration" (pg. 49). Armistice Day, when Hughes was 16, brought celebrations on the streets. "But many of the students at Central kept talking, not about the end of the war, but about Russia, where Lenin had taken power in the name of the workers…" (pg. 63).
The summer of 1919 he spent in a village in the mountains of Mexico; this would have been idyllic except for his ever-critical father, whose minimal parenting skills consisted mainly of being miserly and barking at his son to hurry up. James Nathaniel Hughes admired the German people much more than he did his black fellow-Americans, going so far as to learn to speak the language. He eventually married the widowed German housekeeper he hired after the war's end. Readers can find out his eventual fate in the next volume, "I Wonder as I Wander."
Young Langston supplemented his meager allowance by working as a TOEFL teacher in a Mexican village. Using the Berlitz method, he was so successful that word got around and he was hired to give lessons at a business college and a finishing school for girls.Read more ›
I knew his poetry, of course, from all those years as an English major. I have not had the occasion to read any of his prose, and decided to pick this up after reading the collected works of Nella Larsen.
There was a lot to engage with in The Big Sea. I particularly liked Hughes' description of the Harlem Renaissance. His tone when he talked about it was affectionate and wistful, but still acknowledged the limitations that it had as a lasting solution. There were many great stories ("never hit a woman") and fascinating details-- reproductions of the whist party invitations, for example.
I also really was interested in the way that Hughes discusses his father and the issue of the race. His father left the US (first to Cuba, then to Mexico) in order to avoid race prejudice. His father had nothing but scorn for people of color who stayed in the US and subjected themselves to the inevitabilities of race and class limitations. The anger that this self-imposed exile cost him comes out in his dealings with his son and the way in which he engages with the world around him.
At points, it is as though Hughes is meditating on all the different ways that people around him (including him) have used to address the race problem. It is not the most uplifting of sketches, since none of the various paths seem (according to Hughes) to be a good or lasting solution.
Well-written, interesting, and with many pointers to further reading.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A great read! A must read for anyone interested in the periodPublished 2 months ago by Francois Arouet
Fantastic read! This book gives you a deep insight into the life of author Langston Hughes and the struggles of an African American man in American society. Read morePublished 8 months ago by Alley McAlley
Frank and heartwarming memoir. I loved learning more about Langston, in his own words.Published 10 months ago by Amazon Customer
I also recommend I Wonder as I Wander, Langston Hughes' Autobiography about his 1930's, both very enjoyable reads/travel logs.Published 11 months ago by Kenneth S. Hayes
There's nothing like a first-hand account of a life like that of Langston Hughes! I started reading the classic biography, which was quoting The Big Sea, and I thought - wait, why... Read morePublished 15 months ago by djbinthecosmos
If you don't know much about the life of Langston, then this is a good place to start. Written over 50 years ago, it provides a sanitized glimpse into the life of this iconic... Read morePublished 17 months ago by Abou Fall
This expansive, witty, completely surprising autobiography is one of the best books about a young writer in search of himself and his voice since Joyce's "Portrait of an... Read morePublished 17 months ago by T-Bone