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Object Details

Langston Hughes
Prentiss Taylor
c. 1931
watercolor and ink on paper
Frame: 25 × 18 1/4 × 1/2 in. (63.5 × 46.3 × 1.3 cm)
Artist and lithographer Prentiss Taylor (1907-1991) contributed hand-colored illustrations to the poem, “Broke,” by (James) Langston Hughes (1902-1967), which that tells the story of an unemployed Black man trying to find a job at the height of the Great Depression. The top left illustration shows the broadside’s protagonist, described as “a dejected looking fellow shuffling along in an old suit and a battered hat,” looking at several job advertisements posted around a staircase. The poem follows the man as he makes inquiries into several jobs, all of which offer appallingly low pay and long hours. He struggles to pay rent, loses his girlfriend, and begins to feel crazy. A chance encounter with a woman he once knew, who was now financially secure, inspires the narrator to propose marriage, provided the woman pays for the license. The second illustration at the lower right shows a Black couple in elegant wedding clothes posed beside a red curtain and potted plant.
The broadside was a popular format for the mass distribution of poetry, artwork, news, announcements, advertisements, and more. Hughes, a prolific poet, playwright, essayist, and compiler of anthologies, was a major figure of the Harlem Renaissance. Influenced by jazz and blues music, he structured his poems with a musical sensibility. Hughes met Prentiss Taylor around 1926 in New York City, when Taylor was beginning a career as a theatre designer, and they soon became friends and collaborators. Taylor and Hughes published “Broke” as Broadsides Number 3 from the Golden Stair Press, a publishing imprint they founded to advance the ideas of the Harlem Renaissance. The narrative and accompanying images evidence how the literary and visual arts can illuminate issues of racial injustice. 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.
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