Published: August 27, 2008

American poet and writer Langston Hughes (1902 – 1967) poses, his jacket over his shoulder, on the steps in front of his house in Harlem, New York, New York, June 1958. (Photo by Robert W. Kelley/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

It isn’t hard to find the Langston Hughes house in East Harlem: It’s midway down the block named in his honor (Langston Hughes Place, a section of East 127th Street between Fifth and Madison avenues), it’s covered in ivy, and there’s a plaque out front.

But finding any other evidence there of the acclaimed poet’s contributions to American literature and the Harlem Renaissance is more difficult. Although the brownstone where Hughes spent the last 20 years of his life has been landmarked since 1981, it’s privately owned and not open to the public. At least, that is, since April, when the current owner, a physician named Beverly Prince, evicted tenants who had started a nonprofit dedicated to Hughes’s memory. Now, not only does the public no longer have access to the house, but the two sides are suing each other. In the meantime, the house stands empty, except for Prince’s son, Michael, who is living in the basement.

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