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The section of New York City called Harlem was the home of a very wonderful poet during the 1920s and 1930s. Langston Hughes was one of the most influential black poets of the twentieth century. The blog I wrote and titled “I, too, am America” is a quote from this very talented man. He was born in 1902 in Missouri, however he lived most of his life in Harlem.
Langston was a mentor and inspiration to many other leading black writers and writers. In his poetry, he sought to foster black pride, break stereotypes, and outrage people by telling people about the injustices of racism and inequality. He wrote about lynchings, poverty, and the inner rage of blacks confined and humiliated by segregation. Hughes considered himself the people’s poet. He wanted his writings to be read and not studied. His writing is direct, accessible and often dramatic.
For instance, his poem “Ku Klux,” is written in the first person voice of a black kidnapped by the Klan. The title of the poem is truncated, but all of Hughes readers knew what the third word word would be. The poem concludes inconclusively, but readers understood the grim fate awaiting the man accused of “sassin’ ” white folks.
Hughes first poem was published in the Crisis, the NAACP magazine founded by W.E.B. DuBois. Hughes graduated from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania.
He often wrote dark and pessimistic poetry, but considering his world, I believe it is understandable. Hughes did interweave his poetry with brighter optimism and humor. During his lifetime, the Civil Right’s Movement made progress toward equality, dignity and some of his work reflected this progress. Recently, Langston Hughes has been honored as a gay black male icon.
Portrait of African American poet Langston Hughes
Gentrification is a many-headed beast, and now that beast may be coming to devour the former home of Langston Hughes – one of the great pioneers of the Harlem Renaissance.
However, Renée Watson, a local writer who lives near the home, is trying to prevent that from happening. Watson has launched a fundraising campaign in hopes of raising $150,000 to rent the place and turn it into a cultural center.
As of today, the initiative has raised a little over $26,000.
“For the past ten years, I’ve walked past the brownstone where Langston Hughes lived and wondered why it was empty,” said Watson on the campaign’s homepage. “How could it be that his home wasn’t preserved as a space for poets, a space to honor his legacy?”
“I’d pass the brownstone, shake my head, and say, ‘Someone should do something.’ I have stopped saying, ‘Someone should do something’ and decided that someone is me,” she added.
Watson also launched I, Too, Arts Collective (named in honor of Hughes’ poem I, Too, Sing America), a non-profit whose first major goal is to lease the apartment and “provide a space for emerging and established artists in Harlem to create, connect, and showcase work.”
Watson has lived in the city just over ten years, and she reached out to other writers once she learned of the possible fate of Langston Hughes’ home.
Old brownstones in the area are being torn down to make room for more modern buildings at an alarming rate. There is fear that the money won’t be raised in enough time, but “the current owner has agreed to hold off on selling to see how the project unfolds,” CNN Money reports.
Jason Reynolds, a young adult author, answered Watson’s call to action immediately. “I kept thinking, this is just like New York, nothing is sacred,” he told CNN Money.
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