Langston Hughes's Residence: Home of Harlem's Greatest Poet

By: Dylan Rodgers

Hidden beneath decades of ivy growth, a historical brownstone stands silent, staring through overgrown windows.  Just passing by, you may not realize that on the other side of the third-story glass, Langston Hughes painted lyrical pictures, a cultural dialogue between him and a city in a renaissance.  After his death from prostate cancer on May 22, 1967, his residence was given landmark status by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.  Hughes's residence is an important relic of a man so intrinsic to the spirit of Harlem in the 1920s through the 60s, but it was his view of the world outside his windows that made him extraordinary.

 

Unofficially the poet laureate of Harlem, Hughes pulled inspiration from Harlem and music, using the rhythms of Jazz in his poetic meter to convey a cultural message fundamentally entwined with the Blues.  His work was published regularly in the magazines Crisis and Opportunity, whereby he developed friendships with other writers such as Countee Cullen, Claude McCay, and W.E.B. DuBois.  He wrote influential works in genres spanning from poetry and novels to musicals, operas, and cantatas. The first volume of his autobiography, The Big Sea, gives a first-person account of important events and key players in the Harlem Renaissance that is critical to our current knowledge of the era.  In 1958 he literally crossed his poetry with music by Charles Mingus, Phineas Newborn, and Leonard Feather that resulted in the revolutionary album, The Weary Blues.

The entirety of Langston Hughes's work, though personal in nature, embodies an entire era of a cultural development towards freedom and equality.    In honor of Harlem Week, check out his old residence at 20 125th Street in Harlem, NY.  Due to a recent controversy on how best to represent a famous home, it is not currently open to the public, but if you sit on the stoop, look out into the community, and read The Weary Blues, you can begin to see through Hughes's eyes.