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The Big Sea (The Collected Works of Langston Hughes #13)

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  1,064 Ratings  ·  93 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
Hardcover, 335 pages
Published 1979 by Hill and Wang (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
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
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 23, 2015 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 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
Apr 07, 2009 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
Mar 03, 2012 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
Aug 17, 2009 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
Jan 05, 2011 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 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
Oct 28, 2011 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
I knew his mother was from the Lawrence area but not that he spent part of his childhood there. Cool.
Feb 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Heidi Burkhart
Mar 29, 2016 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.
Very interesting and pleasant to read.
Jun 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Kenya Wright
Jun 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was an amazing story of his life! I love him even more now.
Marc Kohlman
Aug 21, 2014 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
Carla Patterson
May 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017-challenge
What a wonderful surprise this book was! I kept putting off starting it because I thought it was going to be a tough slog emotionally but it was just the opposite. Hughes' way of watching, and participating in, the world was absolutely liberating for me. No claustrophobic sense of self here, only openness to what was really going on at any given moment and a curiosity unbound. I felt like I was along for the ride the whole way. It was fascinating to see through his eyes and it helped me adjust m ...more
Georgia Butler
Langston Hughes certainly led an interesting enough life to write about, though he wrote his biography at the young age of 38. But his telling of these events are too sparing of his own analysis of their impacts. A conspicuous positive for history buffs is Hughes accounts of the "who's who" of Harlem artists--writers, singers, entertainers, and others. In some ways, these chapters read too much like a catalog of people, but again their historical value for who was at what party and when cannot b ...more
Nov 05, 2013 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
Sep 12, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 07, 2011 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
Mar 12, 2012 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
Sep 16, 2015 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.
Rasheed Ali
Feb 20, 2014 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
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
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
Apr 18, 2012 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
Aug 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned, bios
it's been like 4 years since i read this so some details are foggy to me. but i know it was a good autobiography and basically him telling the reader about his rise to the legend he has become.
there was some pretty scandalous stuff in here, but he kept it really light and fun and it made it easier to read.
i did read (or started to read) the follow up "wonder as i wander", and from what i remember it was basically about his travels abroad. i didn't like that one as much as this one. don't know
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What's The Name o...: SOLVED. Short story about child in church [s] 4 21 Mar 13, 2017 06:58PM  
  • The Life of Langston Hughes
  • The Best American Essays 2005
  • Raising Holy Hell: A Novel
  • Empire City: New York Through the Centuries
  • When Harlem Was in Vogue
  • The Best American Essays 2004
  • Shadow and Act
  • Spunk: Selected Short Stories
  • The Best American Essays 2006
  • Paris Noir: African-Americans in the City of Light
  • The Runner: A True Account of the Amazing Lies and Fantastical Adventures of the Ivy League Impostor James Hogue
  • The Best American Essays 2009
  • Basquiat: A Quick Killing in Art
  • The Names
  • The Word: Black Writers Talk About the Transformative Power of Reading and Writing
  • To Be Young, Gifted, and Black: An Informal Autobiography
  • The Best American Essays 2007
  • The Motion Of Light In Water: Sex And Science Fiction Writing In The East Village
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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