The introduction to this memoir written by Arnold Ramperstad tells us that Langston Hughes avoided writing his memoir when first asked to do so in his early 20s until he felt like he had lived long enough to have a story to tell. This is false modesty probably because the story he has is pretty wild already. Ramperstad also tells us that Hughes pulls some of his punches, especially his Communist-ties punches from several of his stories and poems, and well the memoir is not as racy as it might otherwise have been. Zora Neale Hurston’s memoir that came out about the same time is quite a bit more racy in general.
Hughes lets us know that he really is as joyful as he seems, even if sometimes he’s laughing so he doesn’t cry. The memoir begins with the dark sentiment of how much Hughes hated his father, and given that he basically abandoned him for half his young life to go make money abroad and then when he does finally show up, he talks repeatedly about how much he hates African-Americans (he wouldn’t have said Black and this comes up several times in the book). He also tells him to get his stuff, because he’s taking him to Mexico.
Hughes spends a few summers in Mexico, as well as several months and years aboard steamships as part of their crew going to various places in Africa among others. He was too young for WWI which is just as well because it means that he had the time to tool around like he did.
He goes to college a little later, barely convincing his father to pay for Columbia, which he hates, but which affords him the agency to Harlem that he desires. He writes, he dates, he connects. He moved to Europe and tools around there scraping by, writing, getting into adventures.
The book really is great and fun and joyful. You can definitely feel some gaps here, but they’re filled with a narrative voice that is so strong and infectious.