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The Big Sea[An Autobiography] (The Collected Works of Langston Hughes #13)

4.14  ·  Rating Details  ·  949 Ratings  ·  83 Reviews
Langston Hughes, born in 1902, came of age early in the 1920s. In THE BIG SEA he recounts those memorable years in the two great playgrounds of the decade--Harlem and Paris. In Paris he was a cook and waiter in nightclubs. He knew musicians and dancers, the drunks and the dope fiends. In Harlem he was a rising young poet--at the center of the "Harlem Renaissance."
Arnold R
Published July 26th 2011 by Books on Tape (first published 1940)
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For my best poems were all written when I felt the worst.

Recall the boom of the 1920s, the one we think about when we remember the splash of Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Now think of how those years affected the Harlem Renaissance, an era which brought with it important contributions to American literature, an era we don't hear about too often. Alongside Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Stein, and others, were: Hughes, Thurman, Fauset, Locke, Hurston, Toomer, McKay, and others. Some were African Am
Aug 23, 2015 Betsy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Quick and fabulously readable memoir-introduction to Langston Hughes' journey as a writer and his life as it unfolded through the 1920's and the Harlem Renaissance. What a brave, honest and talented human! Favorite quote: "I always do as I want, preferring to kill myself in my own way rather than die of boredom trying to live according to somebody else's 'good advice'."
Aug 23, 2015 Rick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a very fine memoir, among the finest one can read by a 20th century American. It is crisp, observant, thoughtful, unique and beautifully written. It belongs in the neighborhood of A Moveable Feast, though with less spite or regretful nostalgia, and perhaps not quite as finely written but very close.

The memoir covers a relatively short period of Hughes’s life, primarily as a high school and college student to the point he establishes himself as a poet and journalist in the mid-1930s. (The
May 05, 2009 Lanier rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Finally decided to do my final essay for my Masters on the man I've idolized since I was 13. I don't know what took me so long.

Anyway, just like his "Jesse B. Semple" short articles that showed the word the simplistic injustices through an "everyman's" everyman, Hughes writes his autobiography in the plainest of terms, yet, like Simple, extremely poignant, funny and painful.

I've only just begun my journeys through the halls of another writer trying to find place and identity within and wit
Feb 11, 2014 Rosie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So interesting! Of course a poet is the perfect author for an autobiography, although much of his storytelling isn't quite as whimsical as one might expect...and neither is his poetry for that matter. No, he's more of a social and, you might even say, politically minded fellow.
It's moving the deep love he had for his culture and race and the pride he feels in frequently referring to himself and others as "Negroes". The pieces of his life included in this book reflect a bit on the hardships of h
Sep 27, 2011 Angela rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am not sure how I feel about this book or Langston Hughes. There were many times during the book where I really did not like him. I have wanted to learn more about him after reading a short story he wrote during his time in Paris. This is a man who was not the average African American. He had a lot of opportunities most did not have--his father being wealthy and living in Mexico. When he turned down his dad's offer to go to Switzerland and learn languages, I thought he was crazy. He was not ve ...more
Jahi "Providence"
Sep 21, 2007 Jahi "Providence" rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: historians
From the time I was a little boy I knew of Langston Hughes. He was respected...he was almost 'revered'.
I didn't really know a lot about Langston, just that he was big during the Harlem Renaissance.
I remember reading a poem of his 'A Dream Deferred' as a child. It really stuck to me. I remember grabbing a piece of notebook paper and copying it down. Of course I had to add my non-artistic drawings to it in color, including clouds and trees and stars...I wish I had that piece of paper still.
When I
Aug 17, 2009 Damien rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
His life seemed pretty interesting but it bored me to read the way he wrote about it. Especially when he started name dropping during the Harlem Renaissance. It seems that he can give me no idea what was so good about it. I've always wondered what the story behind the rift between him and Zora Neale Hurston was, and still, I feel like he was evading the issue with vagueness and subtle misogyny. Actually, he was pretty vague on just about everything in his life. One of his reviewers wrote: "Langs ...more
Heidi Burkhart
Apr 05, 2016 Heidi Burkhart rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book really flowed, so was a pleasure to read. I had forgotten how much I loved Hughes poetry. Reading about his life and also reading some of his poetry was a delight.
Oct 30, 2011 Michelle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I don't want this autobiography to end. I wish I could write like Langston Hughes. This autobiography tells of his earlier years and his far travels. it is especially wonderful in how it talks about the cities he has lived in and the people he met. It makes the black world of the 1920s come alive. I feel like it was a travelogue of where to stay and what to do of that time. An absolutely dazzling book!

From the last page:
"Literature is a big sea full of many fish. I let down my nets and p
Kenya Wright
Jun 06, 2015 Kenya Wright rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was an amazing story of his life! I love him even more now.
Very interesting and pleasant to read.
Sep 23, 2015 Mary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is Langston Hughes's autobiography, up to about the age of thirty or so, and ends at the time that he is an established writer. I read this as part of a university book club, which was reading it because it is the "freshman read" for this year, and I think it is a good choice - a lot of discussion and thought about questions of race that are coming up again today in light of the Confederate flag controversies, and also by analogy, of gay marriage and acceptance of transgender persons.
Lane Willson
It seems rather odd for a writer to end his autobiography with the declaration that he has decided to become a writer. Of course for a 28 year old to write his autobiography is also not a usual occurrence. Since very little about Langston Hughes could be described as usual, his story in no way seemed out of place.

I came to Langston Hughes via William Styron and James Baldwin, and their interest and stories were enough for me to read on. I’m not much of a poetry man, as poetry does not usually c
Marc Kohlman
Sep 23, 2014 Marc Kohlman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Amazing autobiography full of the passions, triumphs and struggles of one of the Harlem Renaissance's greatest literary artists. I read this book for a course I am currently taking on Langston Hughes and it was interesting to learn more about him as a person. His prose is simple but beautiful, it also is direct that it is genuinely American. What I really was able to relate to in this book was Hughes devotion and faith in himself, especially as a writer. Complete community and obligation to his ...more
Jan 14, 2016 Sujata rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I so enjoyed this. I've had a long history of trouble reading poems, although the few poems by Hughes I've read, I do like. I decided to read his autobiography and it was great. I loved his sense of "I'll go anywhere, with no plans or money" whether Africa, or genoa, or New Orleans" - his voice was wonderful, and I thought, how much of what he observed was still true today. Really great. And this New York Times review of it from 1940 is also interesting.
May 07, 2016 Elise rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 07, 2011 Supineny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked this up because I was curious what he had to report about Paris and Harlem in the 1920s. I really enjoyed this book. Of course its quite a bit more about Langston Hughes himself than about Paris or New York. Part of the pleasure is Hughes prose style here, which is by turns, economical, understated, frank and humorous. While he clearly has a quiet studious side (early on he gets a job on a ship anchored in the middle of the Hudson River where, isolated, he read books for months), his li ...more
Rachel Jones
Jul 30, 2012 Rachel Jones rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Quite the simple and elegant autobiography, you might never guess Langston Hughes was The Harlem Renaissance poet if he hadn't included a few of his poems in this volume.

The value of Langston Hughes' work is clear in his views of the world- growing up a poor black man during the height of the Jim Crow days, he has strong opinions and observations of the way the world works and the value of a human being. He is not radical or militant in his beliefs, though, and seems to glide through some of Am
Nov 16, 2013 Carolynne rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: autobiography
As an autobiography, I think this book failed. I think I am likely to learn more about who Hughes was and why his writing was important by reading someone else's accounting of his life.

Hughes put a good deal of attention to the early years of his life - at least his many disappointments with his parents and how they failed him - but he jumped back and forth in time with a frequency that frustrated me and made the story difficult to follow.

He put much more attention and clarity to describing his
Rasheed Ali
Jul 27, 2016 Rasheed Ali rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: joy
The Book is great. I covers an average man's life 1910-1930. Travleled all parts of america, canada, mexico, italy, france, west africa. He worked as a farmer, journalist, bus boy, red cap, cook, dishwasher, sailor etc etc. Never anything more than an hourly job. Started at Columbia and quit to experience the renaissance of Harlem. Traveled to world with just hope and health. Due to his complexion and familiarity with the bugoise he was able to experience all areas of society in multiple countri ...more
Michael M
Mar 14, 2016 Michael M rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really loved this book. I am fairly new to Langston Hughes but after reading some of his poetry and then finding out more about him, I had to read this book.
Although autobiography, it reads a lot like a travel memoir. Hughes did a surprising amount of travel in very interesting times and there us also some great history collected about the US, too.
Loved it and will be reading his 2nd biographical book - I Wander as I Wonder - soon.
Aug 05, 2015 Don rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I picked up a copy of The Big Sea at the annual CWRU sale. It was a terrific read. Not only could Hughes turn a phrase but his life included many interesting jobs placed which he presented in the context of race in the 1920's. I now want to read more works of Langston including I Wonder as I Wander. In retirement I am pushing myself to read more and varied works. This book met that criteria. Wonderful read!
Langston Hughes' autobiography from youth through his first successes as a writer. One of my favorite books. Told in first person in a conversational and unassuming manner, Hughes recounts how his early adult experiences shape his view of the world. He comes to terms with his clinging mother and his businessman father, who lives in Mexico and hates his own race. He works on a ship, experiencing casual racism and traveling to Europe and Africa. Finally, he settles in Harlem during the so-called H ...more
Nov 12, 2015 Emily rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. Honestly, I can't believe I hadn't read it yet! Langston Hughes is a wonderful writer who led a fascinating life and this book is a great way to learn about not just the man, but the times in which he lived. So much of what he writes about remains relevant today. We can all learn from this remarkable man and his thoroughly enjoyable autobiography of his early life.
R.K. Johnson
Jul 07, 2015 R.K. Johnson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What an amazing journey! I feel like I sailed the big sea of Langston Hughes' life and again, all I can say is: What an amazing journey! I cannot believe I never read this before. Surely it must have been required at some point along my literary and historic journey?? How did I miss this? I am so happy to be 'fully' discovering the canon of Great and Supreme African-American authors. What a delicious treat!!! I love you Langston Poo :)
Aug 15, 2015 Lynna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-for-school
Freshman summer reading book. I expected to be bored, but it was actually very interesting! I learned a lot more about the lives of African Americans and the Harlem Renaissance than I ever did in history class. Langston Hughes' writing is poetic and interesting, and brings to lights many of the racial discriminations of the time. I enjoyed the time I spent reading about the ups and downs of his life and all the experiences that he had.
Rich Hancuff
Feb 01, 2015 Rich Hancuff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The writing style of course is first rate. I was sometimes confused by the chronological order of events, especially toward the end, because Hughes follows one thread and then goes back to follow another (as it turns out) concurrent thread. What emerges from each telling, though, is a vibrant image of the writer and his life. I am looking forward to reading his continuation in I Wonder As I Wander.
Apr 18, 2012 Eleanor rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
All I knew about Langston Hughes before I picked this up was that he was a noted early 20th C black author and poet, but I'd never read any of his work.

This book is his memoir from childhood through his early adult life, and follows him from his high school in Kansas to his father's ranch in Mexico, to Harlem in New York, then a period as a merchant marine travelling across the Atlantic, then to Paris in the '30s, and finally back to New York. He speaks three languages fluently, and brings a bri
May 05, 2014 Bonnie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although Hughes gives away very little of his personality or emotional reactions to his adventures, he certainly had adventures aplenty, and does provide a view into an era of history and social issues that I hadn't previously had much information on.
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Langston Hughes was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, short story writer, and columnist. He was one of the earliest innovators of the then-new literary art form jazz poetry. Hughes is best known for his work during the Harlem Renaissance. He famously wrote about the period that "Harlem was in vogue."
More about Langston Hughes...

Other Books in the Series

The Collected Works of Langston Hughes (1 - 10 of 16 books)
  • The Poems 1921-1940
  • The Poems: 1941-1950
  • The Poems: 1951-1967
  • The Novels: Not Without Laughter and Tambourines to Glory
  • The Plays to 1942: Mulatto to The Sun Do Move
  • Gospel Plays, Operas, and Later Dramatic Works
  • The Early Simple Stories
  • The Later Simple Stories
  • Essays on Art, Race, Politics, and World Affairs
  • Fight for Freedom and Other Writings on Civil Rights

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