This is turning out to be an eventful week for matters related to the late poet Langston Hughes.
On Wednesday, it was revealed that thanks to a successful fundraising campaign, a Harlem home on East 127th Street where Langston lived for several decades is to be transformed into a cultural center. And today, in the print edition of The The New York Times, there is a full-page reprint of his 1926 poem “I, Too.” (Although it is purely coincidental that this print version immediately follows the unrest in Charlotte, it is a powerful juxtaposition nonetheless.)
— Pamela Paul (@PamelaPaulNYT) September 22, 2016
The poem is not a paid ad but rather part of a special section in the paper about the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The Smithsonian’s 19th museum opens this weekend in Washington D.C.
A Times rep kindly passed on to FishbowlNY the backstory for today’s unusual poetry presentation. “Alicia Desantis in our graphics department, who also happens to have a Ph.D. in 19th century American literature, was part of the conversation about the headline for the section and recalled the phrase from the Hughes poem, “I, Too, Sing America.””
“Our Culture desk settled on that as the headline for the digital presentation that published last week. Wayne Kamidoi, who was designing the print section along with Fred Bierman, was pondering the back page of the section and wanted to do something simple and fitting. He thought of the poem and presented the idea, which the editors loved.”
Separately today, on the Smithsonian website, David C. Ward offers some great analysis of the featured poem’s language and imagery:
There is a multi-dimensional pun in the title, “I, Too,” in the lines that open and close the poem. If you hear the word as the number two, it suddenly shifts the terrain to someone who is secondary, subordinate, even, inferior.
Hughes powerfully speaks for the second-class, those excluded. The full-throated drama of the poem portrays African-Americans moving from out of sight, eating in the kitchen, and taking their place at the dining room table co-equal with the “company” that is dining.
Langston died in 1967. Click on the link below to hear him read “I, Too.” The poem was also read by Denzel Washington in the 2007 film The Great Debaters.
H/T: The Huffington Post