Langston Hughes Museum

Submitted by kierspel on Fri, 02/05/2010 - 04:31.

Should a Fairfax room that Langston Hughes lived in for a couple of years be turned into a museum?

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A Museum of One's Own

Welcome to realneo - thanks for linking and bringing attention to this great article by Anne Trubeck - Anne Trubek is the author of the forthcoming book A Skeptic's Guide To Writers' Houses. She is an associate professor at Oberlin College. Trubek offers some of the most interesting reflections on redeveloping our region I have ever read.

Laura, you will love this... especially...

It may be time to stop thinking of restoring houses as the answer to depopulating cities and to start thinking about the advantages of less costly forms of development, like reading books. As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, "Every spirit builds itself a house; and beyond its house a world; and beyond its world, a heaven. Know then, that the world exists for you. ... Build, therefore, your own world."

I think a meeting of minds will offer solutions. That Langston Hughes lived in Fairfax already has given community leaders there reason to promote the work of Langston Hughes, which promotes the idea of being a creative person and writer - that is important. Fairfax is a good neighborhood to further that reasoning, as it is home to Karamu as well... had the Play House until that went away...
This is a good place to focus "cluster" development around theater and the literary arts, which are very promising, in the digital age, and the Langston Hughes House could help promote that. It's use as a tribute to Hughes should be combined with other community outreach and settlement purposes - multitask the building to bring higher value to the community, supporting the costs of the facility.
Teach reading and have a computer lab there - make it a local foods education center...
Yes, save it... but make it more than a tribute house.
Good work Fairfax. Thanks Gary.

Disrupt IT

a time when blackness was démodé

Now that you have me thinking about Langston Hughes - for the first time really in my life - I'm doing some reading-up and reading - wow is he fascinating, and his work wonderful.

There are many more reasons to develop this connection for Fairfax than meet the eye - this offers this neighborhood's people a repurposing vision.... My People

The night is beautiful,
So the faces of my people.
The stars are beautiful,
So the eyes of my people
Beautiful, also, is the sun.
Beautiful, also, are the souls of my people.

From Wikipedia:

Hughes was unashamedly black at a time when blackness was démodé, and he didn’t go much beyond the themes of black is beautiful as he explored the black human condition in a variety of depths.[33] His main concern was the uplift of his people, of whom he judged himself the adequate appreciator, and whose strengths, resiliency, courage, and humor he wanted to record as part of the general American experience.[34][35] Thus, his poetry and fiction centered generally on insightful views of the working class lives of blacks in America, lives he portrayed as full of struggle, joy, laughter, and music. Permeating his work is pride in the African American identity and its diverse culture. "My seeking has been to explain and illuminate the Negro condition in America and obliquely that of all human kind,"[36] Hughes is quoted as saying. Therefore, in his work he confronted racial stereotypes, protested social conditions, and expanded African America’s image of itself; a “people’s poet” who sought to reeducate both audience and artist by lifting the theory of the black aesthetic into reality.[37] An expression of this is the poem My People:[38]

Langston Hughes, Charles S. Johnson, E. Franklin Frazier, Rudolph Fisher, & Hubert Delany. African American writers influenced the Négritude movement in France. Hughes, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Claude Mckay were the most influential.

The night is beautiful,
So the faces of my people.
The stars are beautiful,
So the eyes of my people
Beautiful, also, is the sun.
Beautiful, also, are the souls of my people.

Disrupt IT

Langston Hughes Writer in Residence House

I love solving problems. How about this - The Langston Hughes Writer in Residence House.

To me, the greatest value offered through saving and promoting the Langston Hughes attic is inspiring other writers - just reading about Langston's solitary existence there is inspiring. If I were a writer, I would love to live where Hughes lived, for a while, to soak in the experience and any spiritiual offerings - creative people seek such inspiration.

And, the neighborhood around this house is more inspiring now than when Hughes lived there... if you are a creative person, you will not find more to think about anywhere in the world than in Fairfax, today.

Well, perhaps in Port au Prince, today.

So, the house may not attract a parade of tourists, but it would provide important inspiration and value to enough "artists" to make the preservation of this place and its' energy worthwhile - it has a higher value-offering than most economists know how to factor on spreadsheets (sorry Friedman).

The site is between Case and CSU and not far from over a dozen other major liberal arts colleges, including the above author's Oberlin.

There is not a community literary "hub" in NEO I know of - no literary cafe on the East Side... no coffee house for miles, as the author points-out...

It is very common for arts organizations in a community to have artist in residence programs... meaning artists visit and live here... Spaces has such a program.

How many writers around the world would pay rent for a few months to live where Langston Hughes started out... just the attic... above a literary cafe or arts center, in a neighborhood being redeveloped around the importance of theater and the literary arts.

How about if 23 universities split the costs to pay the writer-in-residence's rent, in exchange for them teaching a class or seminar.

I'd like to see if Chris Abani is interested... I'd love to have him here for a while. If not him, someone else amazing will dig the idea, and dig writing in Cleveland, if only for a few months or years...

And we'll be writing about them here, forever then after.

Last thought - before I moved to East Cleveland, I read the work of d.a. levy, who lived and wrote here and was strongly influenced by that. Keeping such historic arts/place connections alive offers another level of value not typically factored on spreadsheets, but which may make a huge difference in a community.

From d.a. levy, about my neighborhood where he lived...



by d.a.levy

PART ZERO - Celebration With Rada Drums

only ten blocks away
buildings burned - perhaps burning now
the august night broken by sniper fire
police men bleeding in the streets
a sniper surrenders (perhaps out of ammunition)
Gun Jammed?
someone sed he was framed in a doorway
like a picture - his hands in the air
when they shot him -

only ten blocks away
from my quiet apartment
with its green ceramic buddhas
& science fiction books
unread skin magazines to be cut up
for collages

only ten blocks away
from my total helplessness
from my boredom enforced by the state
they are looting stores
trying to get televisions
so they can watch the riots
on the 11 pm news

the national guard jeeps patrol
the streets again
the army-green trucks with the
giant white star on the side
moving in the summer lightning

i cd tell you partly
why it happened
but you wouldnt believe me

like in Milwaukee
during a reading
just after i said
"this is a paranoid poem - written when i was
experimenting with paranoid states of consciousness,
but im not there anymore"
& a young girl sat writing
"shows paranoid symptoms"
probably for her psychology class
not hearing me at all

i cld try to tell you
about the hopeless despair
ingrained in ghetto walls
& police brutality or police stupidity
or police reality is more than just words
to define situation
by students looking for a cause.
the situations exist & continue
quietly in the dark while the
protest goes on in daylight -
both unheard.

the police try to protect
the banks - and everything else
is secondary

during the riots
i watched the news
& didnt pick sides for a change

i just sat wondering about all
the living room revolutionaries
safe in the suburbs
who cheered everytime someone
was shot or a building went up
in smoke

ten blocks away
it was real
thousands of tourists



"east Cleveland has more history than Cleveland"
she sed as if to pump that additional piece
of information into my de-generating energy
centers like a gas station attendant
i couldnt get it across to anyone
how tired i was
just writing poems for tomorrow
or writing poems for myself
a form of suicide

since it all began in cleveland anyway
& thats where the shit belongs
east cleveland
with its ancient city manager
city commisioners
is not like cleveland, where the
mayor & councilmen suck money from
the federal govt & cosa nostra & syndicates
it doesnt really matter
what you call them
as long as you know
who to pay
& who to take from
& never let the little people know
whats happening
if theres any problems
just blame it on the communists
or the john birchers
or the black militants
or the illiterate hippies
depending on who yr talking to
at the time
"east cleveland doesnt have any problems"
and in the near future

if they ever organize
the fine arts council, even
the poets will be kept in line
like they are in cleveland
its so easy to convince poets
what poetry is
and what it isnt
& everyone knows
sleeping with the muse
is only for young poets
after you've been kept impotent
by style & form & words like "art"
after being published by the RIGHT publishers
and having all the right answers
after youve earned the right to call yrself
a poet      yr dead
& lying on yr back
drinking ceremonial wine, while
the muse, who is always a young girl
with old eyes into the universe
suddenly remembers necrophilia
is an experience shes had before
& shes not interrested
in straddling corpses anymore

You wonder why your kids are wearing
flowers in their hair
& laughing in the park
its the bitch herself
eating spanish fly candy
whispering in their ears
because, even if they cant fully understand
what shes saying - they know how to listen
they know how to read Look magazine
between the lines & they still believe

east clevelands history is NOW
at this moment
suspended in the 4th dimensional cinerama
movie we pretend is living     NOW
when i am wondering if the Indians
traveling along the Lake Trail had as much
trouble getting a good piece of ass
as i do

(excuse me, my internal dakini
you know 1 love you spiritually
write my poems for you, but 1 like to
keep my fingers in something wet to remind
me where i am
                      i dont want to end up like
                      Kenneth Patchen - hiding in
                      California - an exile
                      Pound & Artaud locked up
                      in the past - Poe a lush
                      a paranoid lush!

lady you have to be realistic
sending all yr poets to the looney bin
aint helping the profession very much
your blue hair in the wind
& yr eyes full of diamonds
your trembling neon thighs
spread in my mind
while i sat in a quiet apartment
on Savannah Ave waiting for
my teenage wife-mistress to come
home from work after the night shift
waitress on a death ship restaurant

a greek Yorikke with its $1.09 specials
of shishkabob, lambstew, barbequed chicken
porterhouse steak, veal cutlet, spaghetti
etc all tasting the same
i sat at home
while downstairs, the hillbilly dog
barked into the blackness everytime
a piece of newspaper rubbish
or gumwrapper shuttled
across the sidewalk
i sat wondering
if she was getting pulled into some
quiet driveway & getting raped
while i dreamed of love & peace
& dreamed of strange women
in erotic costumes knocking on the door
whispering with wet lips & flaming roses
between their thighs     instead
every young girl     old girl
i ever met wanted me to be her brother
a friend, "fuck that shit"
i'd scream at the shadows
maybe my teenage wife-mistress is
getting raped on the way home from work &
ive got to go make a movie
& i'd leave
the empty apartment
head for the restaurant
down Savannah & Alleghenny & Northfield
to Euclid Ave for a cup of coffee
very disappointed
to find my old lady still there
working late
nothing exciting ever happens
except when the neighbors moved
every 2 or 3 months
without paying the rent
& the landlord would ask us
about them
we never got to know
our neighbors very well

we decided to move
after some young buck
followed my old teenage wife-mistress
home one night (it could have been me
but the wife
still being Christian at that time
i didnt want anyone to get hurt
trying to rape her

no more walking
to meet her
in the sun
or in the snow
or the dark nights
when the street lights
turned everything funny shades
and the sparks from apartment
incinerators leapt into the
polluted air like fireworks

no more back porch
with a window for the siamese
to climb out at night & wander
the streets terrified that
some big tom might
kick the shit
out of him

so many boring nights
quiet halloween parties on Strathmore
smoking the benevolent herb & drinking scotch
experimenting with giant vats full of
home made soup
we made soup
you wouldnt beleive
just soup
nothing to shaft
but the 17 yr old
soon to be my wife
for mutual survival
& then the year & a half on Savannah
finishing off the last of the peyote
gave us both belly-aches
& no pictures in our heads
popping acid or morning glory seeds
until the law sed "fuck yr god in the mouth"
& sealed the door to the universe
with a cross
& the law
the downtown cleveland narks
& the city councilmen
a bunch of transvestites
dancing in the streets
shouting and giggling "We are God, We are God"
I'm a levy & a scorpion
& a poet     i dont need drugs
i just wanted to be like everyone else
& everyone i knew was taking drugs
everyone i knew was reading the P.D.R.
& developing psychosomatic illnesses
just to get pills
any pills

what else was there?
jacking off to the commercials
the old lady nibbling yr fly
during the food commercials
the television nibbling at yr fly
until the old lady returns

the television - just another drug
good old sub-urban life
anyways, i'm glad they passed the laws
too many young kids trying to turn me on
young girls want to come to the house
want to bring grass - write letters
wanting to be my friends
celebrity hunters who want to visit
the local poetry ashram - fuck that shit
i feel like an underground movie
that was burned by Savonarola

im still looking
for a horny white coven queen
who can come in her mind
and let me come with her

last time i took acid
i wanted to get liberated
almost dropped dead
decided i didn't want to get liberated
                    that way
too clinical
sat down & watched the walls melt
& turn into flowing     swaying
throbbing yantras     designs
all visual stuff
bored the piss out of me
everyone else wanted to ball as much
as i did except they were all afraid
so we just watched the pictures
jump out of the walls

im tired of being the instigator
three days later returned to
normal vision 20/30 or 20/60 variable
depending on how bored i am

working out the problems of the universe
thinking weird thoughts
writing paranoid poems about the police
nothing to do except
change the kitty litter, empty the garbage
nothing to do except go to Adeles bar
the last religious frontier
& watch it be destroyed by the
University property-mongers

daytime in east cleveland
the sun breaking thru the
mullberry leaves
                              thru the
                  window of our
new apartment on Wymore

the sun softly thundering
across our new oriental carpets
from the Salvation army
on 55th Street

Everyone Sez,
"write a poem about east cleveland"
yah man, wouldn't that be cute!

Continued here...

Disrupt IT

Anne Trubek

  I am at home Norm--I don't work today, because I work tomorrow.  I am familiar with local writer Anne Trubek.  I linked to her exploration of the nearby East 73rd St.  here.

I agree with her that we should not make a museum of Langston Hughes' home, but I disagree with the flippancy of her comment:

It may be time to stop thinking of restoring houses as the answer to depopulating cities and to start thinking about the advantages of less costly forms of development, like reading books.

Afterall, she and other ivory tower academics, prep school spawn and exurban/suburbanites  love the fodder provided by the "urban jungle." 

It's not a place to live--it's an adventurous place to cautiously visit and then leave.  She even contradicts herself by throwing up her hands here after acknowledging in the GOOD article that there is a neighborhood in the city, but that in the case of Langston Hughes' home  everyone should just accept defeat at the thought of preserving key elements of the neighborhood that influenced his life.

Am I being harsh to her?  Maybe so.  I welcome her to join the conversation here.  I think that landmarking Langston Hughes home is a start.  We need to have touchstones to our local history.  And, we have to stop this INSANE race to destroy every cultural touchstone in the City of Cleveland.

Langston Hughes was a giant.  Cleveland should be proud of this amazing man.  He is one of my own personal heroes for his effort to always remain positive about the world.  He is one of the great writers/artists, who influenced and lived in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance. 

Norm--I recommend that you read On the Shoulders of Giants and hear Kareem-Abdul Jabbar on Sunday, February 23.  I am also attending the appearance of amazing illustrator Frank Morrison at the Martin Luther King Branch Library on February 11th.

Civil rights and the effort to promote understanding in February does not highlight just one cultural story.  It highlights our collective history and we need to remind ourselves of the past to build a better future.

my opinions do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my employer, my spouse, my cat, my neighbors, my extended family or anyone I happen to acknowledge on the street, bus, etc.

More on Langston Hughes House...

Langston Hughes House, Fairfax, Cleveland, Ohio - from Cleveland Area History Blog - credit Christopher Busta-Peck

Langston Hughes House, Fairfax, Cleveland, Ohio
from Cleveland Area History Blog - credit Christopher Busta-Peck

I was looking for the address of the Langston Hughes House and happened to stumble across a great write-up on Inside the Langston Hughes House on the "Cleveland Area History" blog, which has great photos inside and out, and great analysis by a local librarian... Christopher Busta-Peck - very cool read and the place to learn more about this initiative.

The house appears to be in great shape, considering... if it hasn't been sacked since...

Since I live about a mile from the Langston Hughes House, I'm in the process of photographing the neighborhood... it is one thing to read how a community has been destroyed and quite another to see the destruction.

Lots of destruction to document there... very inspiring place for any serious writer - very little neighborhood and history to hold on to and preserve... little to build upon... much to document and write about...

A Langston Hughes identity may be the best/only chance this area ever has of establishing a neighborhood of purpose again... it clearly isn't benefiting just because it contains one of medicine's greatest superpowers...

More photos and video to come... check out "Cleveland Area History" for the inside story!

Disrupt IT

Hughes, a mark in time and place.

Funny how folks spiral off into poetry even when the question is a practical one, but it does show the heart and spirit of Langston Huges is alive and well and living in Cleveland. Do you restore/preserve the whole house, the room or not and where will funding come from? Is the neighborhood important, the house or the room that Langston Hughes occupied? If the house is to become a landmark, how is the neighborhood? Will this landmark spur upgrades to this community? Maybe the house is not as important as the room itself, then the room can be dismantled and/or recreated in a more secure accessible location. Will this room be a fish out of a water or wapped in a context which displays it's time, pictures, photos, audio and a place there writers and poets can have a public fourm. The various rooms could be recreated as a stage setting for a speaker's forum.

I think the Langston Huges place deserves as much if not more consideration than the house that "the Christmas Story" took place in or where the "SuperMan comic was realized in. I would seek something similar to the Karamu House in scope. But if it were to become a center, a commitment to the whole community is in order because they care.

And the poetry is very cool!!