Harlem's renaissance hinged on the poetic musings of wordsmiths like Langston Hughes in the 1920s, much as its latest revival hinges on the poets Jessica Care Moore, Steve Colman and Black Ice.
The trio, along with four other "Def Poetry Jam" alumni and their predecessors The Last Poets, will take the stage at a new 20,000 square-foot cultural center called MIST Harlem Wednesday night, marking the unofficial opening of the uptown Manhattan entertainment space.
"There are people who are doing cinema, there are people who are doing music, there are people who may have a restaurant, but we’re the only place that you can have all of that under one roof," MIST's chief marketing officer, Taneshia Nash-Laird, told The Huffington Post.
In September, while still under construction, MIST hosted a one-day pop-up shop for the one-time Harlem mainstay Hue-Man Books, bringing in NBA star Dywane Wade for a reading and signing of his debut work, "A Father First."
The venue aims to highlight the kind of talent on which Harlem's fabled reputation was built -- "the best in film, live music, spoken word, and comedy [either] performed or created by black and Latino artists," Nash-Laird said. She added that the target audience is the neighborhood's steady flow of tourists.
"Harlem has changed significantly over the years, but as long as I’ve been in the community, from a family standpoint, we have buses of tourists that come and there were few places that they could go from a commercial standpoint," Nash-Laird said. The touchy nature of Harlem's gentrification is not lost on MIST or its creators.
"We want to make sure that people know who was here," Nash-Laird added. "One of the things that sometimes happens is you want these changes, because you do want revitalization, but ... it comes with a price. Sometimes you lose the history of a community and this particular venue is designed to say that no matter how Harlem may become less brown, this is a place that will always be a home for our community."
MIST's three theaters will offer that community all-day entertainment alongside a cozy eating space called Harvist.
From the restaurant's helm, chef Cassandra Quinlan-Ashford, an alum of Danny Meyer's Tabla among others, will serve seasonal American fare that Nash-Laird said will be punctuated with "low-country, Southern" accents. (Think prawn and grits served with braised greens, crispy leeks, and bacon; and roast pork with wild mushrooms, braised black-eye peas, and crisp apple salsa.)
Like MIST, "Def Poetry Jam" is celebrating a milestone this year -- its 10th anniversary. Co-founded by Bruce George, Deborah Pointer and Danny Simmons (and later branded by Simmons' brother Russell), the spinoff of the popular HBO series "Def Comedy Jam" made its Broadway debut in November 2002, winning the 2003 Tony Award for Best Special Theatrical Event.