Walter Smalley donated this Broadside, which is autographed by the artist, to Secretary Dillon Ripley, who passed it to the Anacostia Museum in 1978. The broadside includes poem "Broke" by Langston Hughes and artwork by Prentiss Taylor.
Related archival collection: Address by Langston Hughes 1947 January 24 contained in Lorenzo Dow Turner papers, 1895-1972. Langston Hughes reading his poems Madam and Her Madam and Madam and The Rent Man. Contact the Archivist for more information.
Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was a major figure of the Harlem Renaissance, the blossoming of African American art, literature, culture, and criticism of the 1920s and 1930s, centered primarily in New York City, but flourishing also in Washington, D.C., Chicago, and other urban centers. In 1925 he won first prize for poetry in Opportunity magazine. During the Renaissance and afterward, he collaborated with the leading African American artists, writers, and musicians of the time, including Zora Neale Hurston, Arna Bontemps, Sterling Brown, Wallace Thurman, and Countee Cullen.
Hughes was a prolific poet, playwright, essayist, and compiler of anthologies. Influenced by jazz and blues music, he structured his poems with such a musical sensibility that they fairly sing on being read or recited. His work reflects his interest in all aspects of the black experience, especially of the working class.
In 1925 Hughes met noted amateur photographer and music, art, and literature critic Carl Van Vechten. With Van Vechten's encouragement, Hughes published his first poetry collection, The Weary Blues, in 1926. Van Vechten then introduced Hughes to Prentiss Taylor, a painter and lithographer from Washington, D.C., who came to New York to start a career as a theater designer. Hughes and Taylor soon became friends and collaborators.
Broke was printed as Broadsides Number 3 from the Golden Stair Press, a small publishing concern started by Hughes and Taylor with a $200 loan from Van Vechten. The illustrations are hand-colored. This sheet bears a written dedication under the title: "For Webster Smalley Christmas 1934 Prentiss Taylor." Webster Smalley, a frequent editor of Hughes' works, was a fellow leader of the cultural expression of the Harlem Renaissance.
While Hughes wrote and traveled, Taylor ran the press out of his house at 23 Bank Street in Greenwich Village, New York City. For several years, Hughes, Taylor and Smalley published important volumes of socially conscious poetry and art, including The Negro Mother (1931), inspired by educator Mary McLeod Bethune, and Scottsboro Limited (1932), about the trial of the "Scottsboro Boys" in Alabama. Yet the Golden Stair Press did not survive for long; there were always money woes. In the fall of 1931 poet Langston Hughes toured the South, reading from his poems at universities and community gatherings to sell copies and raise money. The tour was a success, with the poems selling very well as booklets and broadsides.
Remember that Hughes wrote this poem during the Great Depression, when many Americans were out of work and struggling to survive. Throughout his career, Hughes often addressed the difficult subjects of cultural identity, race, racism, and poverty in his poems and plays.
Lorenzo Dow Turner papers, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution, gift of Lois Turner Williams.
Prentiss Taylor papers, 1885-1991. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.