Explore Washington D.C.

Poetic Likeness

Curator David Ward at the National Portrait Gallery has pulled images of America’s poets from that museum’s deep collection. Among the celebrated faces is Langston Hughes, no doubt the most important poet of the Harlem Renaissance, lived here only 14 months. He came and took odd jobs, hoping to earn enough to enroll at Howard University. While a busboy at the Wardman Park Hotel, he slipped three of his poems by the plate of guest Vachel Lindsay, a well-known versifier. Lindsay read the poems, then declared the discovery of “a Negro poet.” The next day newspapers spread the story, picturing Hughes in busboy whites and holding a loaded tray. Years later Hughes said, “I felt very bad in Washington, so I wrote a great many poems.”

National Portrait Gallery, 8th and F sts. NW, 202.633.1000. www.npg.si.edu

Jean Lawlor Cohen