Today’s Thoughtful Thursday celebrates the poet Kevin Young, who is now the Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City. The Schomburg, located on 135th Street and Malcolm X Boulevard in Harlem, is a leading research institution focusing exclusively on African-American, African Diaspora, and African experiences. Its collection includes letters, papers and other archival material of many notable African Americans, including Booker T. Washington, Paul Robeson, Ralph Bunche, Lorraine Hansberry, Malcolm X and Nat King Cole, Langston Hughes, and James Baldwin, whose letters were acquired by the research library earlier this week.

The collection of Baldwin’s work includes correspondence from Nina Simone, a handwritten screenplay about Malcolm X and notes on his first novel, “Go Tell It On The Mountain.” You can read more about this acquisition in the New York Times article found here. Congrats to Kevin Young and the Schomburg; what an amazing addition this is to the already impressive collection.

GCP has focused on the poetry of Kevin Young in previous Thoughtful Thursdays; below are a few of our favorites. We start things off with a poem written by James Baldwin–a tribute to Lena Horne.

Le sporting-club de Monte Carlo (for Lena Horne)

The lady is a tramp
a camp
a lamp

The lady is a sight
a might
a light
the lady devastated
an alley or two
reverberated through the valley
which leads to me, and you

the lady is the apple
of God’s eye:
He’s cool enough about it
but He tends to strut a little
when she passes by

the lady is a wonder
daughter of the thunder
smashing cages
legistlating rages
with the voice of ages
singing us through.

James Baldwin

Lime Light Blues

I have been known
to wear white shoes
beyond Labor Day.
I can see through
doors & walls
made of glass.
I’m in an anger
encouragement class.
When I walk
over the water
of parking lots
car doors lock–
When I wander
or enter the elevator
women snap
their pocketbooks
shut, clutch
their handbags close.
cops follow me in stores
asking me to holler
if I need any help.
I can get a rise–
am able to cause
patrolmen to stop
& second look–
Any drugs in the trunk?
Civilian teens
beg me for green,
where to score
around here.
When I dance,
which is often,
the moon above me
wheels its disco lights–
until there’s a fight.
Crowds gather
& wonder how
the spotlight sounds–
like a body
being born, like the blare
of car horns
as I cross
the street unlocking,
slow. I know all
a movie needs
is me
shouting at the screen
from the balcony. From such
heights I watch
the darkness gather.
What pressure
my blood is under.

Kevin Young

Eddie Priest’s Barbershop & Notary

Closed Mondays
is music is men
off early from work is waiting
for the chance at the chair
while the eagle claws holes
in your pockets keeping
time by the turning
of rusty fans steel flowers with
cold breezes is having nothing
better to do than guess at the years
of hair matted beneath the soiled caps
of drunks the pain of running
a fisted comb through stubborn
knots is the dark dirty low
down blues the tender heads
of sons fresh from cornrows all
wonder at losing half their height
is a mother gathering hair for good
luck for a soft wig is the round
difficulty of ears the peach
faced boys asking Eddie
to cut in parts and arrows
wanting to have their names read
for just a few days and among thin
jazz is the quick brush of a done
head the black flood around
your feet grandfathers
stopping their games of ivory
dominoes just before they reach the bone
yard is winking widowers announcing
cut it clean off I’m through courting
and hair only gets in the way is the final
spin of the chair a reflection of
a reflection that sting of wintergreen
tonic on the neck of a sleeping snow
haired man when you realize it is
your turn you are next

Kevin Young


There’s a way a woman
will not

her pocketbook
even pulled
onstage, or called up

to the pulpit—
there’s a way only
your Auntie can make it

taste right—
rice & gravy
is a meal

if my late Great Aunt
Toota makes it—
Aunts cook like

there’s no tomorrow
& they’re right.
Too hot

is how my Aunt Tuddie
peppers everything,
her name given

by my father, four, seeing
her smiling in her crib.
There’s a barrel

full of rainwater
beside the house
that my infant father will fall

into, trying to see
himself—the bottom—
& there’s his sister

Margie yanking him out
by his hair grown long
as superstition. Never mind

the flyswatter they chase you
round the house
& into the yard with

ready to whup the daylights
out of you—
that’s only a threat—

Aunties will fix you
potato salad
& save

you some. Godmothers,
Aunts smoke like

it’s going out of style—
& it is—
make even gold

teeth look right, shining.
saying I’ll be
John, with a sigh. Make way

out of no way—
keep they key
to the scale that weighed

the cotton, the cane
we raised more
than our share of—

If not them, then who
will win heaven?
holding tight

to their pocketbooks
at the pearly gates
just in case.

Kevin Young