image of Langston Hughes
The Big Sea by Langston Hughes

Each year, the Text and Community Program conducts a semester-long project at George Mason University that seeks to foster exchanges across disciplines and interpretations of a text from multiple perspectives. Langston Hughes’s autobiography, THE BIG SEA, published in 1940, just shortly after the end of the Harlem Renaissance, has been selected as the text for Text and Community for 2002. Some of this year’s events are being co-sponsored by the African American Studies interdisciplinary minor, and by the College of Visual and Performing Arts.

The book has been taught in undergraduate courses on autobiography, and many Mason students are familiar with Hughes’s poetry and other writing from both literature and history courses.

Given that the year 2002 is the year of the national centennial celebration of Langston Hughes’s birth on February 1, 1902, by choosing his autobiography as this year’s text, George Mason’s Text and Community program has become part of this celebration. A major part of this celebration is "Let America Be America Again," an international symposium on the art, life, and legacy of Langston Hughes to be held at the University of Kansas, February 7-10, 2002.

Known as an American classic, The Big Sea enables us to remember and celebrate Langston Hughes’s life and work. The book tells of his travels around the world to places like Mexico, Africa, and Paris, of his memories of Harlem and its famous writers, artists, dancers, and musicians, and how his travels shaped his writing life before, during, and after the Harlem Renaissance. It is a kind of coming of age story that chronicles his confrontation with issues such as his relationship with his father, his racial identity, his understanding of himself as an American at home and overseas, and his own participation in the Harlem Renaissance. No reader can read his Hughes’s life story without discerning his love of language, music and ordinary folk, especially in America’s urban centers, such as Cleveland, Harlem, and Washington, D.C. At the same time, we learn whom he read, whom he met, and his appreciation for a rich diversity of experiences, not only as a writer, but also as a college student, as a worker, and as a global citizen. His book contains numerous reference to such famous people as Zora Neale Hurston, James Weldon Johnson, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Jean Toomer, to name a few.

Langston Hughes was known as a blues poet, a jazz poet, and the Poet Laureate of his people and his autobiography helps us understand each of these identities. Indeed, this year’s Text and Community program gives us a window into one of the nation’s most fascinating historical and cultural eras through one of its most prolific and gifted writers.

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is a program of the English Department at George Mason University, sponsored in 2002 by African American Studies. Web site is sponsored and created by the New Media Group in English with the assistance of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Image of Langston Hughes is a detail from the book cover of The Big Sea (permission pending).
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