Arts & Culture

Reading honors Langston Hughes

Providence Public Library celebrates 23rd Langston Hughes poetry festival with jazz music, 40 poems

By
Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 6, 2018

A large crowd gathered Sunday at the Providence Public Library for the 23rd Annual Langston Hughes Community Poetry Reading. The event was held to celebrate the life and work of the prolific eponymous Harlem Renaissance poet. Over the course of several hours, performers of many age groups and ethnicities read 40 of Hughes’ poems, many of which criticized the United States’ hypocritical conception of democracy, celebrated the “vernacular of blackness” and “demanded that the humanity of black people everywhere be recognized,” said program co-coordinator April Brown.

“Art does that. It demands that humanity be recognized. Poetry invites us to exercise our own meaning-making and agency,” said guest scholar Renee T. White, whose speech prefaced the readings.

The readings were set to music by the Daniel Ian Smith Jazz Trio, a group that has accompanied the event for the past 19 years.

“I think we started performing at the Langston Hughes Community Poetry Reading right around the time that Brady started winning Super Bowls,” joked bandmember Keala Kaumeheiwa, who composed an original piece to accompany his reading of Hughes’ “Dream Boogie.”

“Our appreciation for Hughes’ work has grown much deeper since we started” performing at the event, added the Trio’s frontman, Daniel Ian Smith.

Formerly held in the Rhode Island School of Design Museum, this was the first year that the event has taken place in the Providence Public Library. “Langston would want this event to be in the Public Library,” Brown said, alluding to Hughes’ reputation as a “people’s poet.”

The program was co-coordinated by Anne Edmonds Clanton, the founder of the Langston Hughes Center for the Arts and Education, and made possible by a grant from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, in addition to other cultural organizations from Rhode Island. The previous Friday, a similar event that catered specifically to youth was held at the Southside Cultural Center of Rhode Island. Accompanied by hip-hop music, the event featured performances from Nowell Academy students and AS220 Youth, Brown said.

The reading was attended by Hughes enthusiasts from many walks of life — local professors, precocious middle schoolers and supportive family members flocked to the Providence Public Library. 

Karen Maude, an educator from Boston, said that she came because she loves Hughes’ work and because she wanted to support her aunt, who was reading.

“I have always enjoyed (Hughes’) poetry. I use it to inspire pieces from my students by first reading his work and talking about the political issues he talked about, and then having them write their own poetry,” Maude said.

Dannie Ritchie, a clinical assistant professor of family medicine at the University, who was invited to read “Songs to the Dark Virgin,” described the event as “an opportunity to gather, grow and celebrate each other.”