Running From, and Back To, Ralph Ellison’s Harlem | Village Voice

by Selin Thomas

Art: Erin Robinson

Art: Erin Robinson

There are places so dense that they seem to contract into themselves to save room. Harlem is one of them, like a black hole of great and flexible darkness hiding mass unseen. Come winter, the effect is magnified so that even the most flamboyant parts are directed to intimate interiors: The yelling of schoolboys in suit and tie is silenced by a burrowed shuffle; the boombox echo of “God Bless the Child” down Lenox Avenue fades into wind-blown memory; Black Hebrew Israelites, defensively guarding their soapbox crier in leather praetorian skirts, hustle inside after a frustrated season. Emergency food lines stretch out into the bitter cold. Living here is an exercise in waiting, waiting for it to pull you in with force, or to implode without.

This place isn’t the ruin it used to be. Decayed basement churches, sidewalk shooting memorials, and stinking litter underfoot, though resilient, are no longer the vermin-invaded mazes of old. Streets are no longer illuminated by trashcan fires, and there are not limp bodies or deals in the unlit corners. Casual violence is no longer ubiquitous.

Read more: Running From, and Back To, Ralph Ellison’s Harlem | Village Voice

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