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Hughes moved to Harlem in the 1920s and ultimately became the most prominent figure in the literary, artistic, and intellectual phenomenon known as the Harlem Renaissance. Hughes wrote articles for The Crisis and in 1926 published his first book of poetry, The Weary Blues. Over the decades until his death in 1967, he became one of the best-known and most versatile American writers of the twentieth century. His creative range -- poetry, novels, short fiction, drama, translations, gospel-song plays, libretti, juvenile fiction, radio and television scripts, history, biography, and autobiography -- is unique in American letters.
The seventeen volumes of the Collected Works are to be published with the goal that Hughes pursued throughout his lifetime: making his books available to the people. Each volume will include a biographical and literary chronology by Arnold Rampersad, as well as an introduction by a Hughes scholar. The volume introductions will provide contextual and historical information on the particular work.
In the first volume of his autobiography, The Big Sea, covering the years through 1931, Hughesoffers recollections of his childhood in Kansas, his high school years in Cleveland, his sojourn with his father in Mexico, and his initial reactions to New York City and Harlem.
Commentaries on the "Black Renaissance" in Harlem and Washington, D.C., are intertwined with recollections of his student years at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, his travels through the South, and his association as a "younger generation" poet with the New York and Harlem literary establishment represented by Crisis and Opportunity magazines. Personal memories of Jessie Fauset, Countee Cullen, Jean Toomer, W.E.B. Du Bois, Wallace Thurman, Alain Locke, Carter G. Woodson, Vachel Lindsey, Leila Walker, and others are augmented by allusions to such celebrities as Duke Ellington, Florence Mills, Eubie Blake, Josephine Baker, Bert Williams, Theodore Dreiser, Ethel Barrymore, and Bessie Smith.
Hughes addresses such controversial issues as his literary and personal disagreements with Zora Neale Hurston over their play Mule Bone, Carl Van Vechten's problematic novel Heaven, racial matters at Lincoln University, the Jim Crow laws in the South, and the failures of white patronage. Furthermore, Hughes refers to the sources of a blues poetry aesthetic, his visit to Cuba, and the struggle to complete his first novel, Not without Laughter. A rare presentation of the Harlem Renaissance from the perspective of an insider, The Big Sea also offers a "black perspective" on the expatriate life in Europe during the Roaring Twenties.
About the Editor Joseph McLaren is Professor of English at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. He is the author of Langston Hughes: Folk Dramatist in the Protest Tradition, 1921-1943. About the Author Langston Hughes was one of the most influential and prolific writers of the twentieth century.