Electric Lit: I Can Only Save My Grandparents’ Home by Preserving It in Fiction

In the bedroom of Harlem Renaissance poet Anne Spencer, there’s a mural depicting a well-dressed crowd at a cocktail party pasted to the wall. Spencer’s granddaughter, Shaun Spencer-Hester, points to small black lines that outline the teeth of some in the crowd: a handful of them, chest-high or so, the only faces Shaun could reach when she “enhanced” the mural as a child. The artwork was installed to cover the random lists and thoughts that her poet grandmother habitually wrote on the wall. To get to the upper level where the family sometimes entertained, guests walked through the master bedroom; concerned about what visitors might think about the scribblings on the wall, Spencer agreed to have the mural installed. Shaun smiles as she points out the features of people in the crowd and names Harlem Renaissance figures she thinks are depicted in the painting.