The Harlem YMCA, A Mecca for 20th Century Black Writers
When visiting New York City, you can stop at the Claude McKay Residence (the Harlem YMCA), where Jamaican-born, Harlem Renaissance poet Claude McKay (1889-1948) resided in its early days. Even today, it remains possible to book a guest room there.
More notable writers who were part of the YMCA scene across the mid-20th century include Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and Malcolm X. The YMCA website also mentions that Martin Luther King, Jr. once spoke there.
To understand the literary history of New York, it is especially helpful to become informed about the Harlem Renaissance, a time and place in American history that birthed and celebrated the careers of many African-American writers, musicians and artists. Those who stayed at the YMCA were among the most influential and popular Harlem poets from that time.
“If a man is not faithful to his own individuality, he cannot be loyal to anything,” — Claude McKay
Langston Hughes, A Writer’s Open Home
In addition to the long-standing YMCA in Upper Manhattan, the Harlem home of Langston Hughes (1902-1967) opened to the public through the “I, Too, Arts Collective” in 2017. Unfortunately, it shut down three years later. The address is 20 E 127th Street. The original typewriter and piano of Langston Hughes were on display at this multi-purpose space that honored the life and work of one of the most popular African-American writers of all time.
Read the moving story of the opening through a community-based non-profit campaign here: Huffington Post.
An excellent scholarly book to read about this time, place, and people working in the arts is Zora and Langston: A Story of Friendship and Betrayal, published by Yuval Taylor in 2019.
Harlem borders the Hudson River and is southwest of Yankee Stadium. Hopefully, the community will again be able to restore this landmark to benefit visitors from the public. All that remains as of 2021 is a plaque.
This is the seventh stop on our New York Author Adventures Trail.