Sunday, 16 August 2015

an evening’s entertainment or byob

The ever-inquiring Nag on the Lake introduces a fascinating sociological phenomenon captured in the ephemera collected by poet and reformer Langston Hughes—intrigued by the little rhyming couplets on the header of invite cards, Hughes amassed quite a number of them when he first came to Harlem in the mid-1950s, that document the plight that black tenents faced in New York City from the 1920s onwards. Low wages combined with price gouging in certain boroughs meant that renters often needed to resort to creative measures (crowd-funding, I guess we would call it today) in order to meet monthly obligations. Many apartments opened up for house parties—which for a nominal entrance fee (refreshments not included), neighbours were treated to a night of music, dancing, card playing and general merry making. Proceeds helped the tenants to bridge the shortfall. Those invitations that Hughes held on to are housed in a special collection at the library of Yale University.