HARLEM — A children's book author in Harlem wants to turn the historic home of renowned writer and poet Langston Hughes into a community space for artists.
Renée Watson, along with 10 other artists, are leading an effort to save the historic brownstone on East 127th Street, between Fifth and Madison avenues, which has sat empty for decades. The last asking price for the privately owned property was for $1.2 million in 2009, but did not sell.
Watson said she walks by the home almost daily and was troubled that it was empty and unused.
She envisions opening the home up to the art community as a gathering space for writers, dancers and painters. She launched an online campaign to raise $150,000 in hopes she can convince the owner to rent her the space.
The campaign had raised more than $56,000 as of Tuesday afternoon.
Watson's determination to convert the building for public use was bolstered by the sale of another historic home. Maya Angelou's Harlem brownstone on 120th Street was sold for $4 million in July.
“It just really drove home the point that in Harlem that there were change-maker artists and writers that have been important to the fabric of our nation… like Langston Hughes, James Baldwin and Maya Angelou,” she said. “I feel like we, the collective, should try to preserve those places to make them into museums, into creative hubs."
Watson pointed to the home of Edgar Allan Poe as an example of what could be done to Langston Hughes' brownstone. Poe's last home, a cottage in The Bronx, was preserved as a museum.
Watson said she's been in touch with the current owner of Hughes' brownstone and transforming the space would be a possibility if she reaches her fundraising goal.
The owner could not immediately be reached.
The $150,000 would cover restoration costs, programming and rent for a year. Once the artist hub opens, she plans to launch a nonprofit called the I, Too, Arts Collective, which would fundraise, apply for grants and organize programming for the center.
“We want the space to be used by the people,” Watson said. “We also want people to have ownership of it.”
“If you want an open mic, come rent the space,” she added.