Monday, February 20, 2012


". . . stories lead to other stories. . ."  
 - Brian Selznick

Five words among the 26,159 in his book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, on which the movie, "Hugo" is based.    
 Five words spoke to me, more than all the others, as I read Hugo's story this weekend.
Because I know them to be be true.  I just experienced them.

My story began two weeks ago at the Studio Museum in Harlem. 

 I was helping chaperone a group of Léman Manhattan High School students on a tour of The Romare Bearden Project.  (Please refer to my earlier blog posting).  I knew nothing of Mr. Bearden or his art, but learned that one of his signature works was called "The Block," an 18-foot collaged mural depicting a Harlem neighborhood, much as Bearden experienced it.  I saw a picture of it in the Studio's gift shop and wondered where it might be located, but left without asking.

Connection #1:
Soon after, I was meeting with a group of Léman's Lower School teachers at the Broad street campus.  Needing tape, I walked into the nearby art room, passing two colorful pictures, which looked vaguely familiar.  As I left the room, I stopped to examine them more closely.  Unbelievably, I found myself once again looking at Bearden's "The Block."

Andrea Yost, the Lower School art teacher said, "Yes, our first graders have been studying "The Block," and creating their own.

Days before, I would likely have ignored these amazing collages, missing the intricate details captured so imaginatively by 6- and 7-year-olds.  There would have been no connection to whisper in my ear, "Stop, look."
(The pieces are currently on display in a glass case in the school's entrance at 41 Broad Street.)

Connection #2:
Andrea added as I was leaving, "I think the original is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art."

Connection #3:
A quick Google search verified Andrea's hunch, and I planned a trip for the next day.  But there was more. I discovered that a book entitled, The Block, had been published in 1995, pairing scenes from the mural with poems by  Langston Hughes, a contemporary of Bearden and fellow Harlem resident.

As soon as I read about the book, I hurriedly spilled the contents of my purse on the bed.  Retrieving my wrinkled To Do List, created a month earlier, I skimmed down to the fourth line and read, incredulously, "Get a book of poetry by Langston Hughes."  It was the only line that had not been crossed off.

Connection #4:
I immediately ordered a copy of The Block from Amazon and searched the New York Public Library's catalog for a collection of Hughes' poetry. I found one available copy of The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, appropriately, at the Harlem Branch, one subway stop past the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Connection #5:
"The Block" was waiting for me in the Met's Gallery 399.  The more closely I searched its scenes, the more the street came to life. . children playing outside the Mirror Barber Shop, a solitary man sitting at the top of a flight of stairs, a funeral processing to a waiting hearse, faces looking out windows, faces looking into windows. . .
The images swirled through my head, as the subway whooshed towards Harlem.

Connection #6:
The last step of this story must wait for its own telling, next week.  My visit to the Harlem Branch Library was much too grand to begin here, at the end of an already lengthy line of connections.

I ponder, again, Selznick's quote:

"Stories lead to other stories," to which I add:    

connected as    
 invisible threads in a web
for us to follow

 I sit today, cup of tea on the counter, Collected Poems of Langston Hughes open to its side.
The poet in me contemplates, "What connections can Langston Hughes have for me?"




  1. so. cool.

    (I admit, I want to make a "block" with my next class.)

  2. And you will do it! I agree, "The Block" would be a great project.


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