Writers Almanac tells us today is the birthday of Langston Hughes. Also that he lived for much of his childhood with his grandmother in Lawrence, Kansas. And this is one of the things that’s important about that:
Langston was fascinated by the streetcars in Lawrence, and he wanted to be a streetcar conductor when he grew up. But he also loved books. The Lawrence Public Library was one of the only integrated public buildings in the city, and he spent as much time there as possible. He said, ‘Then it was that books began to happen to me, and I began to believe in nothing but books and the wonderful world in books where if people suffered, they suffered in beautiful language, not in monosyllables, as we did in Kansas.’
Well, Langston Hughes grew up to be a wonderful poet who knew something himself about “beautiful language.” Some of his poems and their titles have become part of our working vocabulary. We often hear talk of “a dream deferred,” from the poem “Harlem [Dream Deferred].”
Who could ever forget, once having heard, “Well, son, I’ll tell you:/Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.” from the poem Mother to Son.
Just this week one of the Coretta Scott King Honor Awards, given by the ALA, was awarded to No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller, by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson (published by Carolrhoda Lab). This sounds like a wonderful book. I’m eager to read it. But even before I read it, I appreciate the circling back to Langston Hughes in the title. Langston Hughes–the connection between a library in Kansas and a bookstore in Harlem.
Libraries and bookstores. Where would we be without them? Whenever it is “a damp, drizzly November in my soul,” I do not take to a ship, but to a library or a bookstore, and find myself roused just by being surrounded by all those stories, all that information. And then I bring some of it home–even better.
Somewhere, in some library or bookstore, someone is having a birthday. Happy Birthday to you, too, and thanks!