Article, photos and documentary by Kenneth Sousie
The i, Too Arts Collective, a space for Harlem creatives, which operated out of The Langston Hughes House, closed its doors in December after a 3-year effort to raise enough funds to survive.
The collective was founded in 2016 by Renee Watson, an award-winning author of children’s books, for the purpose of memorializing the legacy of Hughes by using his former home as an artists’ and writers’ space that also offered classes and workshops for free, especially for under-served youth. Just like Hughes, who was not a native New Yorker, Watson came to Harlem from elsewhere. When the Portland native first visited the house of her biggest hero, she immediately had a dream of turning it into an engaging space for the community.
During his final 20 years, Hughes lived and worked at the house writing a collection of fiction, nonfiction and poetry. Hughes also wrote what is argued to be his most political work—articles for the The Chicago Defender, a legendary black newspaper that was widely read outside the Windy City; it ceased publishing a print edition last year, but continues to publish a digital edition. The Langston Hughes House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981 and was made a city landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Hughes passed away in 1967.
The #LangstonsLegacy campaign was started by Watson and co to not only gain contributions to stay in the house, but to raise awareness of the house’s history and importance in the Harlem arts community. On December 8th, 2019, the i, Too Arts Collective gathered with friends, neighbors and members to put on one last open mic.
“This will forever be home to me. It’s bittersweet. At least I get to close it out.” said Smoove Babii, poet and Harlem native.
“I feel sadness that this place is closing because it feels like our history is being erased. Children need to understand landmarks. We know who Shakespeare is, and children hear about Langston Hughes but to be able to walk in his home, to be able to see his typewriter – it gives a feeling of ‘I can do it too,’ so [the collective] needs to stay.” said Sasha Duvet, a Langston Hughes fan and Harlem native.
Despite the Collective closing, Walker has sincere hopes for the future of Harlem’s writer’s community. “Harlem is synonymous with community. It’s what black people do, we form communities. I hope Harlem remains a place for the world, that people of color can know that not only are they safe here, but they are heard here. The i, Too Arts Collective is dedicated to Harlem. Langston’s heart was for Harlem.”