Langston Hughes came to New York to study at Columbia in 1921, but after a year he left due to racial prejudice at the institution. He aimed his focus towards Harlem, becoming a large influence on the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, even when he was physically worlds away.
Famously saying, "I would rather have a kitchenette in Harlem than a mansion in Westchester," he spent the last twenty years of his life living in a brownstone on 20 East 127th Street, churning out some of his best work from the third floor. WCBS notes that "while in his two-room suite, with treetop views, a narrow bed, a shower, books, work tables, photographs and other belongings, Hughes produced a book-length poem, an autobiography, newspaper columns, lyrics, anthologies, and many other writings."
Now the structure in which he found inspiration will be transformed into a "performance and gallery space, recording studios, and an overall incubator of creativity for musicians, poets and other artists -- all while paying homage to the literary giant." A musician, a music producer and a music executive opened the doors to creative minds on February 1st. The first floor (living and dining rooms and kitchen) has become an intimate performance parlor - seating about 60 and housing instruments, including a $150,000 Fazioli piano. The second floor, where the bedrooms of Hughes' surrogate parents once were, have become recording studios. The third floor, where Hughes himself found inspiration and sanctuary, now houses Motema Records. Open mic nights, performances, film and other exhibits will all become part of the new history of Hughes' house.
The building received landmark status in 1981, however when Shon "Chance" Miller (one of those involved in recreating the space) first saw it, he said of it's appearance, "This place was just beat down." Upon seeing who the brownstone once belonged to, however, he signed a five-year lease with the current owner, Dr. Beverly Prince Davis. So far there have been over $80,000 in renovations, with more needed. Hopefully they'll keep the Children's Garden in tact.
When Hughes died in 1967, his ashes were interred beneath a medallion in the floor outside of the auditorium named for him in the Arthur Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, just around the corner from his brownstone. You can visit Hughes House on East 127 Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues, a block that was renamed Langston Hughes Place.