Langston Hughes first published his poem “Harlem” in 1951, as part of a book-length poetic sequence titled Montage of a Dream Deferred. As he outlines in his introduction to that book, Hughes sought to evoke “the riffs, runs, breaks, and distortions of the music of a community in transition.” Indeed, “Harlem” is very much a poem about a community in transition. Specifically, the poem concerns the Black community in Harlem, the Upper Manhattan neighborhood named in the title. The speaker is looking back to the Harlem Renaissance, a period of Black cultural flourishing that gave new life to the dream of Black advancement. In the ensuing decades, however, the speaker has witnessed their community’s degeneration. This situation motivates the speaker’s opening question: “What happens to a dream deferred?” (line 1). Answering this opening query, the speaker posits a series of prophetic answers that explicitly compare Harlem’s deferred dream to images of desiccation and rot. In contrast with these answers, the speaker concludes by entertaining a more dynamic possibility: “Or does it explode?” (line 11). In the end, though, it remains ambiguous whether the speaker anticipates violent self-destruction, or whether the explosion symbolizes an outburst of revolutionary potential. Either way, Harlem’s future hangs in the balance.