Starting Over

As the S.S. Malone steamed past Sandy Hook, a young Langston Hughes did something radical, he tossed his books overboard. The books he meant to read, the books he read at Columbia. All of them. The last to go was H. L. Mencken. As he put it in his autobiography

It wasn’t only the books that I wanted to throw away, but everything unpleasant and miserable out of my past: the memory of my father, the poverty and uncertainties of my mother’s life, the stupidities of color-prejudice, black in a white world, the fear of not finding a job, the bewilderment of no one to talk to about things that trouble you, the feelings of always being controlled by others—by parents, by employers, by some outer necessity not your own. All those things I wanted to throw away. To be free of. To escape from I wanted to be a man on my own, control my own life, and go my own way. I was twenty-one. So I threw the book in the sea.

Quoted by Kevin Young, The Grey Album, 175

 

 

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