Portland-raised author and educator Renée Watson, now based in Harlem, is part of a collective working to preserve and celebrate the legacy of Langston Hughes by leasing the Harlem brownstone where he lived and created during the last twenty years of his life. The I,Too, Arts Collective envisions the brownstone, currently empty, as a space for artists, poets, and creators to come together, mentor one another, and build upon the rich cultural legacy left by Hughes.
“I've walked past the brownstone where Langston Hughes lived many times and wondered why it was empty,” explains Watson. “How could it be that his home wasn't preserved as a space for poets, a space to honor his legacy? I'd pass the brownstone, shake my head, and say, ‘Someone should do something.’ I have stopped saying, ‘Someone should do something’ and I've gathered a group of writers and artists and we are trying to do something.” Watson is committed to preserving the historical and cultural spaces where African American pioneers lived and created. “This is not just for nostalgic reasons, but I see a need for young people to know about and understand the legacy they are a part of; the artists and activists who paved the way for them.”
Watson has published several highly acclaimed books. This Side of Home, her first young adult novel, is set in Portland. It was named a Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year and received starred reviews from Booklist and BCCB. Her second young adult novel, Piecing Me Together, will be published in early 2017. It’s a timely and powerful story about a teen girl named Jade, who’s striving for success in a world that too often feels like it wants to break her.