I Would Like to Introduce You to Langston Hughes


 

 

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.

 

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Portait of African American poet Langston Hughes with a statue, 1955. (Photo by Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images)

Portrait of African American poet Langston Hughes 

 

Artists banding together to save Langston Hughes’ historic home in Harlem

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?”

Photo: fullaccessnyc.com
Photo: fullaccessnyc.com

“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.

 

The Passing of an Icon


My heart is heavy as I heard of the passing of one of the great feminist leaders of our time. Adrienne Rich was a feminist and a poet. She authored the book ” Of Woman Born ” and many books of poetry.

Adrienne was born in 1929. In the 1960’s her poetry took a turn from the more traditional style to a radical feminist format. She wrote about how poetry can break isolation,she  reminded us of creating beauty where there is no beauty and  reminded us of our Sisterhood.

From a Survivor

The pact that we made was the ordinary pact
of men and women in those days
I don’t know who we thought we were
that our personalities
could resist the failures of the race
Lucky or unlucky, we didn’t know the race had failures of that order
and that we were going to share them
Like everybody else, we thought of ourselves as special
Your body is as vivid to me as it ever was;
even more since my feeling for it is clearer;
I know what it could do and could not do
it is no longer the body of a god or anything
with power over my life
Next year it would have been 20 years
and you are wastefully dead
who might have make the leap we talked,
too late, of making which I live now not as a leap
but a succession of brief, amazing
movements each one making possible the next.”

—–Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich described her poetry as political and as personal. One of her poems, “Power ” speaks of how women find it very difficult to grab onto and to raise up their talents and successes and dreams. In “Power.” she speaks of Marie Curie, the scientist.

“She died a famous woman denying
her wounds
denying
her wounds came from the same source
as her power.”
This is from one of her books of poetry called, “The Dream of a Common Language; Poems 1974-1977.

So I say goodbye to a heroine and icon and I will end with this excerpt from her poem “Translations.”

You show me the poems of some woman
my age, or younger
translated from your language

Certain words occur; enemy, oven, sorrow
enough to let me know
she’s a woman of my time.”

Thank you for your contributions to the cause of women’s rights and RIP.