"AN IMPORTANT AMERICAN DOCUMENT" (RALPH ELLISON): VERY SCARCE PRESENTATION/ASSOCIATION FIRST EDITION OF LANGSTON HUGHES' AUTOBIOGRAPHY, THE BIG SEA, HIS"AUTHOR'S COPY" INSCRIBED MERE DAYS AFTER PUBLICATION
HUGHES, Langston. The Big Sea. New York and London: Alfred A. Knopf, 1940. Octavo, original green cloth, original dust jacket.
First edition of Hughes' autobiography, inscribed by him to Canadian poet Leander "Lee" Crowe, longtime companion of Hughes' "most trusted confidant" and benefactor Noel Sullivan, dated by Hughes days after publication, "Author's copy, Received July 25, 1940. My very best to Lee who helps liven life! Sincerely, Langston Chicago, August 12 [corrected from "13"], 1940."
Hughes' "commitment to depicting and strengthening the African-American heartbeat in America—and to helping others depict it as well—gave him a place of central importance in 20th-century African-American literature and American literature generally" (ANB). In the first of an eventual two autobiographical volumes (I Wonder as I Wander would be published in 1956), Hughes recounts his life from his childhood in Kansas, where his family lived in fear of "the mortgage man;" through his travels in Mexico, Africa and France; to his emergence as a leading voice in the Harlem Renaissance—in fact, the book's "firsthand account" of that movement's "main personalities and events" has "never [been] surpassed" (Smith, Baechler and Litz, 169). Ralph Ellison commended this book as "an important American document… told in evocative prose… The Big Sea has all the excitement of a picaresque novel with Hughes himself as hero." Its "smiling poise," says biographer Arnold Rampersad, is "the poise of the blues, where laughter, art and the will to survive triumph at last over personal suffering" (379). "First Edition" stated on copyright page. Broccoli & Clark III:160. Hughes inscribed this memorable "author's copy" to Canadian author Leander (Lee) Crowe, a lifelong companion of beloved California art patron Noel Sullivan, who was "as close a friend as any relative Hughes ever had… for a quarter of a century Sullivan was the poet's most trusted confidant" (Berry, Langston Hughes, 150). Hughes dedicated his first collection of short stories, Ways of White Folks (1934) to Sullivan, who regularly offered Hughes refuge at his San Francisco and Carmel homes, where Sullivan and Crowe often welcomed 40 or more dinner guests, including artists, writers, actors and musicians such as Marian Anderson, Paul Robeson and Duke Ellington. Hughes, who began work on Big Sea in Chicago, gratefully accepted Sullivan's offer to stay at his Hollow Hills Farm in Carmel, where Hughes finished Big Sea in late 1939. Sullivan, Lee Crowe and Hughes also regularly corresponded, and at Sullivan's death in 1956, Hughes knew he had lost both "a haven" and steadfast benefactor (Rampersad, Life V.II:257).
Text fine with only light soiling to spine of cloth; mild edge-wear, foxing to scarce bright dust jacket. A near-fine inscribed copy with an important provenance.