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The Big Sea

(The Collected Works of Langston Hughes #13)

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  1,362 ratings  ·  131 reviews
Introduction by Arnold Rampersad.

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 the musicians and dancers, the drunks and dope fiends. In Harlem he was a rising young poet--at the center of t
Paperback, 335 pages
Published August 1st 1993 by Hill and Wang (first published 1940)
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Jeffrey Keeten
”When I was in the second grade, my grandmother took me to Lawrence to raise me. And I was unhappy for a long time, and very lonesome living with my grandmother. Then it was that books began to happen to me, and I began to believe in nothing but books and the wonderful world in books--where if people suffered, they suffered in beautiful language, not in monosyllables, as we did in Kansas. And where almost always the mortgage got paid off, the good knights won, and the Alger boy triumphed.”

 photo langston-hughes_zpsg1l9gx4p.jpg
May 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
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 Af
In Topeka, as a small child, my mother took me with her to the little vine-covered library on the grounds of the Capitol. There I first fell in love with the librarians, and I have been in love with them ever since–those very nice women who help you find wonderful books! The silence inside the library, the big chairs, and long tables, and the fact that the library was always there and didn’t seem to have a mortgage on it, or any sort of insecurity about it–all of that made me love it. And right ...more
Debbie Zapata
Feb 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: saturdaymx
The first of two autobiographies by Langston Hughes, this one was published in 1940 and covers the poet's childhood and life through the decade of the 20's. I had heard of Langston Hughes before, but had never read his work. I saw his name mentioned as an influence on the author of a book I read a few years ago and became curious enough to order his two autobiographies, thinking I wanted to get to know the man before I tried his poetry.

I'm glad I chose that path, because now when I have library
Feb 12, 2020 rated it liked it
“Literature is a big sea full of many fish. I let down my nets and pulled.” This is the autobiography that Langston Hughes wrote in 1940 when he was about thirty eight. He writes of his teenage years and early writing career, travels aboard various ships, but the most interesting aspect is his firsthand account of the Harlem Renaissance and his relationships with other authors and artists. It is written in an episodic manner and is not particularly “literary” (unlike “Not without laughter”), how ...more
Jamey Boelhower
It was interesting to hear about Langston's life from his perspective. His travels, joys, and heartaches allow us to understand how his life influenced his works.
Aug 17, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
Aug 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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'."
Augustus Jasmin
Jan 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It had been along time since I’d read Langston Hughes, and I mostly remembered the greatest hits: the Weary Blues, A Negro Dreams Rivers, the Simple stories. This book provided lots of context and changed how I saw the author and the Harlem Renaissance. I didn’t realize what an adventurous life he led, jumping from country to country with just a few bucks in his pocket, or how young he was when he wrote many of his seminal works. My image of him was very “dignified,“ and I never pictured him vis ...more
Aug 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2018
Fascinating witness account of the 1910s and 1920s interspersed with Hughes' beautiful poems and occasionally sprinkled with of-its-time sexism and patronising essentialist accounts of "primitive Africa" to keep your eye muscles exercised.
Mar 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars
Apr 27, 2019 rated it it was ok
Descriptive autobiography. Little reflection. Hughes is a genial companion.
Aug 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 04, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: overdrive, audio
This is basically a chronological list of the places Hughes went. There is little perspective on the times and really very little self analysis. The part of this book that I expected to be the most interesting to me was the last third about the Harlem Renaissance. However, even that was primarily name dropping.
Feb 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is for everyone who ever doubted their own greatness. It takes a bit of struggle and pain, but you can make it. It's a great big sea out there, waiting for you.
Neelie  Neirbo
Dec 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
I want to give this five stars for his writing, but Hughes’ persistence in referring to liaisons with women as ‘getting some girls’ suggests a blind spot in his awareness of human commoditization beyond race. No, I can’t write that off to history and the times.

Also reading Obama’s “Becoming” and noting some parallels about their discussions of race, visits to Africa, framing of opportunities and expectations altered by culture and bias.

Langston Hughes ends his 1940 autobiography The Big Sea by w
Dec 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I first read this book in the eighth grade. I was writing a research paper on Langston Hughes and checked this book out as a resource. I never expected to fall in love with Hughes. Reading his words, it felt like someone understood me, a silly black gay preacher's son from Chicago. Likewise, I felt like I understood him, even at 13 and nowhere near experienced in life as Hughes was when he wrote this autobiography.
Jahi "Providence"
Sep 21, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 05, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Mathew Sympsun
Oct 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Although the entire book isn't about his time on the sea, the opening scene is of him, a young poet, leaving New York Harbor on a freighter to cross the Atlantic bound for Africa, and the parts of the story that are about his time on boats are among the best boat stories I've read. For that reason I'm including it in my list of great sea stories.
Beyond that the book is one of my favourites, in which the poet talks about his time in America, Mexico, Africa and Europe in the early decades of the 2
Oct 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 11, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
Langston Hughes wrote an autobiography of his life. This book is the first half of his life. I learned so much about him that I did not know such as his time in the military traveling to Africa. His time at Lincoln University (a black college in Pennsylvania) and his time at Columbia University. He never goes into this personal relationships but his views from public transportation to his views on the every day rituals.

I love Langston Hughes!
Jun 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A brilliant autobiography which exposes both the horrors of growing up African-American in the early 20th century and the triumph of art over hate.
Aug 14, 2015 added it
Very interesting and pleasant to read.
Heidi Burkhart
Mar 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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.
Kenya Wright
Jun 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This was an amazing story of his life! I love him even more now.
Andy Oram
Sep 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, literature
This lovely stroll back in history reveals courage, compassion, and joy (it's no accident that Hughes called his first novel "Not Without Laughter"). I discovered the book on a shelf when I got up early one morning at a bed-and-breakfast inn, and went back just now to finish it. When the book came out, some reviewers misinterpreted the direct and unpretentious style as naive (although it breaks out sometimes into impressive lyricism, along with humor and thoughtful commentary at times). Everyone ...more
Marc Kohlman
Aug 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
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What's the Name o...: SOLVED. Short story about child in church [s] 4 23 Mar 13, 2017 06:58PM  

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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."

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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