Monday, February 9, 2015

Langston Hughes Poetry Center and Library Grand Opening Recap

Photo by Jennifer Bartell

The Langston Hughes Poetry Center and Library at Allen University in Columbia, SC,  is a project ten years in the making, developed by Charlene Spearen, Chairperson of the Humanities Department at Allen, and Kwame Dawes, currently the Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner and a Chancellor’s Professor of English at the University of Nebraska. The center was also established to commemorate Hughes' visitation and poetry reading at the college. It features art and books of poetry by Hughes and African American poets. The center acquired hundreds of titles through donations from poets and other libraries. 

Kwame Dawes workshop
Photo by Bhavin Tailor
On Saturday, January 31, 2015, the center was opened to the community with several poetry workshops, headlined by Kwame and Nikki Finney, 2011 National Book Award winner for poetry and the John H. Bennett, Jr. Chair in Southern Letters and Literature at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC. 

Kwame opened the day's workshops with his theme of humility and originality in poetry. He admonished the emerging poets in attendance to understand ourselves and our place in the canon of poetry at large. He encouraged us to embrace our gift of writing that has already been around for lifetimes. He asked everyone, "Who do you write like?" and "Do you know who is influencing you?" in an effort to dispel the notion that poets must be original without traces of contemporaries in our work. He said, "Don't feel pressure to be original," but "maintain your voice." Once we identify our influences, according to Kwame, we can take control of them in our writing.

Next. Ernest Williamson III, Assistant Professor of English at Allen, gave a workshop on writing ekphrastic poetry. Ekphrasis is poetry based on art. As both an artist and a poet with over 550 publications, Ernest shared his insight on using paintings as inspiration for poems.

Fayaz Kabani, English Instructor at Allen, gave a workshop on writing sonnets. 
Nikky Finney workshop
Photo by Jennifer Bartell

Then, Nikky's workshop focused on Langston Hughes' essay "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain" (

In the essay, Hughes responds to a young poet who confesses to him, "I want to be a poet, not a Negro poet," Upon reading the text, we all reflected on the black experience in America from past to present. During the discussion, a member of the audience gave a stunning revelation about Hughes, stating that when Hughes visited Johnson C. Smith University for a poetry reading, he had no money, but his poetry was amazing. 

The following letter from the Johnson C. Smith archives confirms that Hughes did, in fact, visit the school (

After Charlene gave a workshop on short poems and their large impact, Bhavin Tailor, Writing Center Manager at Allen, gave a workshop on poems about nature. 

Having fellow members of The Watering Hole Collective with me in the workshops made the experience all the more enjoyable. 
A few members of The Watering Hole Collective (
(l to r) me, Stephanie Suell, Jennifer Bartell (administrator),
 Candace Wiley (founder), Joyce Rose-Harris
Photo by Bhavin Tailor

Located at 1329 Pine St. in Columbia, the center is open to the public and available for book clubs, workshops, and poetry readings. For further availability, email Charlene Spearen at

No comments:

Post a Comment