On Saturday, January 31st, Allen University celebrated the opening of the Langston Hughes Poetry Center and Library, located at 1329 Pine Street in downtown Columbia. The space contains over 2,000 books which honor not only the African-American poetic heritage, but also take on an international scope among its featured poetic works. The collection includes many signed copies contributed by some of the leading poets of the 20th and 21st century.
The library is named after Langston Hughes (1902-1967), the influential poet who gained early recognition during the Harlem Renaissance era for his innovative and jazz-styled poetry. In fact, the acclaimed poet visited Allen University in 1937 and gave a reading at Chapelle Auditorium. The connection remains important to the university as seen through the naming of the Langston Hughes Poetry Center and Library.
The opening celebration included readings by world renowned poets Kwame Dawes and Nikky Finney. Allen University creative writing professors held seminars and workshops. The evening closed with a reception and open mic readings at the Allen University Student Center.
In response to the opening of the center, poet Kwame Dawes stated: “In cultures where the written word has effectively charted and recorded the history of those cultures, books have been a necessary and wonderful resource, and libraries have been some of the most important institutions in such cultures. I can think of no better way of providing a community with a sense of his history and culture than a library full of the rich poetry of that community.
This is why the Langston Hughes Library at Allen University is as an important addition to the enrichment of the life of the state of South Carolina as any of our institutions that celebrate the arts. I can think of no other person who has the skill, the passion and the tenacity to make this center come alive than Dr. Charlene Spearen. Allen University’s embrace of this initiative puts it, once again, at the forefront of civic leadership and visionary innovation in Columbia, South Carolina.”
Dr. Charlene Spearen, Interim Vice President of Academic Affairs at Allen University acts as the Director of the new poetry center. She also worked as its co-founder, along with Kwame Dawes. Being a poet herself, Dr. Spearen is the Associate Director of the S.C. Poetry Initiative, which Dawes founded and directed before accepting his position at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, where he currently serves as the Chancellor’s Professor of English and Editor-in-Chief of the well-known literary magazine, Prairie Schooner.
Dr. Spearen’s contribution to Allen University and to SC Independent Colleges & Universities was recognized when she received SCICU’s Excellence in Teaching Award in 2012. Her desire for the Langston Hughes Poetry Center is for children and adults alike to experience the power of poetry and to use the center as a resource for experiencing the multitude of cultural voices that exist in the world today.
Dr. Spearen emphasized the many avenues of support behind opening this center, stating: “This library has come into being with the support of Allen University’s administration, its faculty, staff and students. It has come into being because poets, by way of generously contributing their books, see the importance of the art of writing poetry. The location of the library on the campus of Allen University, which is within the Historic Waverly Community, is also significant. One can take any poetry collection off a shelf and immediately read poems that are a form of music, visual art, and dance that speaks to one’s sense of Self simultaneously in the context of individuality, community, faith and social justice.”
The Langston Hughes Poetry Center and Library is located at 1329 Pine Street in Columbia, SC. It is open to the public on Tuesdays through Fridays from 10am until 5pm, as well as on every third Saturday from 10am until 3pm.