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The Big Sea: An Autobiography (American Century Series) Paperback – August 1, 1993

4.6 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Langston Hughes is the Jazz Poet! The constant communicator of Blues. He is the singer, philosopher, the folk and urban lyricist. This book is the chronicle of a bright and lively artistic ear that brought the African-American people full into the twentieth century. It is a wonderful book!” ―Amiri Baraka

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.

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Product Details

  • Series: American Century Series
  • Paperback: 335 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang; 2 edition (August 1, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809015498
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809015498
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #66,530 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This book had a profound effect my life as a writer.My mother read it to me at night like fairy tales when I was very young. As I grew up and realized I wanted to write professionally, the lessons in The Big Sea made the writing life seem not only possible, but the best life a person could find. I would say without a doubt that this is my favorite book of all time. If I was marooned on a desert island, this would be the book I would take with me. From his base in Harlem, it shows Hughes embracing the whole world. The Big Sea is a book to read and treasure. again and again.
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Format: Paperback
Langston Hughes' book, "The Big Sea," is a chronicle of the legendary writer's life up until his first success as a writer. His journey's take him to Mexico, Africa, and Europe in a quest to find out his place in this world. In a time when being a person of color meant certain injustice, Hughes uses his travels to become aware of the "ways" of racism and how to combat it. An excellent book that is more an exciting adventure, than an autobiography.
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Format: Paperback
Hughes, known primarily for his poetry and short stories, discusses his life.

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
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Langston Hughes was a wonderful poet and story teller so it is not surprising that his autobiography/memoir is a joy to read. He tells the story of his life by giving us delightful episodes that each read like short stories. Each chapter has the structure of a short story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Along the way, the reader has to be amazed at the texture and breadth of his life adventures. He lives for a short time in Mexico with his father, in several cities with his mother and other relatives, and then his wonderful sea going adventures in Europe, Africa, and also his stay in Paris. The reader also gets a first hand glimpse of what it was like to be "Negro" in America as well as in other places in the world. The writing is bright and energetic and the book is very difficult to put down. I highly recommend it to anyone who might be thinking about writing an autobiography or memoir.
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Format: Paperback
This autobiography begins with the author sailing out of New York harbor and chucking his collection of books overboard, "as far as I could out into the sea" (pg. 31). The last chapter of part one explains why: "They seemed to me too much like everything I had known in the past… like life isn't, as described in romantic prose…" (pg. 93).

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.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Published when Hughes was 38, the subject of The Big Sea is the period of his life from 1902-1939. It covers a wide variety of episodes in Hughes' life, with key elements being his travels as a youth, his relationship to his father, and the Harlem Renaissance.

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.
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