by Ellen Hagan
Photos by David Flores
The president of the I, Too Arts Collective board shares details about the Harlem, NY organization, accompanied by amazing photos from their Legacy Gala.
It is official. As of February 1st, 2017, the former brownstone of Langston Hughes is finally open to the public, making all of us a collective part of his spiritual orbit. There is electricity in this place – not the kind that keeps the lights on, though there is that now too, but there is energy here that you can feel, and a long history that transports you back to the 1920’s. Step into the former home of Langston Hughes – star of the Harlem Renaissance, poet, novelist, playwright and so much more, and you step into his once private space – his solace, office, a boarding house at one time, a spot where he gathered artists and thinkers – and you can feel their creativity and vibe. His piano and beloved (to him and us) typewriter are on constant display, making his spirit feel present and alive. His brownstone at 20 East 127th St. is humming with stories and memories, and it is a true thrill and honor to share this space with the community he so deeply loved.
As president of the I, Too Arts Collective board, and a close friend of founder Renée Watson, we feel honored to share this sacred space with our Uptown community and beyond. This is a space Renée dreamed of, and had the ability and vision and magic to make happen. She wanted Harlem to stay intact, to hold onto its history, preserve the space for Langston’s dreams and visions, and hold space for other practicing artists in the home of a legacy. As a collective, we envision a place for artists to fellowship, poet, dance, mingle, network, and dream. Our upcoming programs include: Poetry Salons, Creative Conversations (our first will be March 29th with Renée and Jason Reynolds), Creative Arts Intensives, Langston Fellows and Flexible Community Space. In April, we begin the Langston Institute for Young Writers with high school students from all five boroughs. The space is buzzing already.
As a community we need Langston's House. We need it for gathering ground and activating movements. We need a space for healing and protest, a sanctuary from city life, a balm, a way to reconnect and imagine a world full of poems, of energy and love. Our first Legacy Gala was held on February 28th. The night was full of poets, educators and activists – neighbors and new friends. We shook loose the night as the DJ played all the best cuts, and we danced a soul train line down the parlor floor, conjuring all the artists who came before us. We made photographs, sipped cocktails, laughed deep and hard with old friends, and introduced new ones. We became family, and we all raised glasses to the young Langston's to come – to open doors and a cacophony of words – a celebration of language and all the ways it holds memory and builds the future.
Ellen Hagan is a writer, performer & educator. Her books of poetry include: Crowned (Sawyer House Press, 2010) and Hemisphere
(Northwestern University Press, 2015). She currently directs the poetry & theatre programs at The DreamYard Project. She is a proud Affrilachian poet & recently founded & curates the Poetry & Pine reading series at CounterEvolution.