The Big Sea (Hughes)

I’ve gone through an evolution in my understanding of and appreciation for Langston Hughes’ poetry. First, I fell in love. Then I saw it as gateway poetry, both for myself and for my students. Then I saw it as too common – even banning it (along with Shel Silverstein – as possibilities for a high school poetry assignment. I may have thrown Maya Angelou and even Robert Frost in there, too.) Now, after reading his autobiography, I’m back in love with the poetry and wondering why I haven’t read much of his fiction or seen any of his plays.

I enjoyed two main parts of this autobiography. First, I had absolutely no idea of Hughes’ work and world experience – and all at such a young age. Second, I relished the sections that allowed him to explain the origin and progression of his poems. In fact, I would have loved more of this.

As with some of his poetry, this autobiography can appear simple, but there is much to be unpacked and explored. Other names to investigate, for example, as well as other questions – the unfortunate rift between he and Zora Neale Hurston, the relationship between black artists and white patrons and audiences, the expectations (pressures?) placed on black writers to present a certain face to the world, etc..

Skip Rampersad’s introduction. He’s usually better than he is here.


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