Langston Hughes Library, exterior; Copyright owner: Lin; Permission pending.
The Langston Hughes Library is a private non-circulating library located on the Haley Farm in Clinton, TN ("CDF Haley Farm," 2009). It contains a 5,000-volume reference collection focusing on works by African-American authors and illustrator, and books focused on the Black experience ("CDF Haley Farm"). It was designed in 1999 by Chinese-American architect Maya Lin.


Haley farm was once owned by writer Alex Haley, and was purchased by the Children’s Defense Fund in 1994 (Lamb, 1994). It is now run as a retreat center, with training and conference facilities, the Riggio-Lynch Interfaith Chapel, guest cottages, and the library. The farm consists of 157 acres surrounded by ridges of the Appalachian mountains, and is 25 miles north of Knoxville ("CDF Haley Farm," 2009; "Clinton, Tennessee," n.d.; Lamb). The grounds of the farm include streams, a lake, an apple orchard, and a ropes course. (Lamb; Abif, 2002, p. 53).


•1994 Children’s Defense Fund purchases Haley Farm.
•1999 Langston Hughes Library dedicated.

Project description

The Langston Hughes Library was dedicated in March 19, 1999. The dedication ceremony was attended by such i
Langston Hughes Library, exterior; CC license AND2.0G: yellowcrayons Used with permission.
mportant figures as Maya Angelou, Hilary Rodham Clinton, John Franklin, and Toni Morrison ("History," 2002). The Children’s Defense Fund and its sister organization, the Black Community Crusade for Children, run this library "as an incubator for the CDF’s "Leave No Child Behind" movement (Abif, 2002, p. 52).

The Library is a 1,200 square foot 2-story building with a single reading room upstairs and entryway and a small bookstore in the south corn crib (Arcady, 2008; Lin, 2000, p. 10:24). The reading room was designed to be a flexible space, allowing for public readings or personal study areas, as needed.

An 1860s refurbished barn and two corn cribs comprise the exterior skin of the building (Ross, 2002). The rustic exterior, which evokes the "architectural vernacular of 19th-century East Tennessee, a plain language of silvery, time-worn siding, rough logs, and minimal geometries" is melded with modern Shaker-like simplicity on the interior (Kreyling, 2000). Maya Lin pointed out that the function of the exterior and that of the interior were different and thus she ''wanted to make a real cut between outside and inside…there didn't seem to be much point in preserving the rustic feel of the barn's interior" (Kreyling, 2000).
Langston Hughes Library, corn crib interior; Copyright owner: Lin; Permission pending.

One of the most striking aspects of the design are the glass-encased corn cribs that act as a base for the cantelievered barn that sits atop them. Margaret Butler of Martella Associates states that the glass between the logs ''glows like a Chinese lantern'' at night (Kreyling, 2000). The cantilevered barn floats above the two reclaimed corn cribs (Milliss, 2008). The two corncribs are held together with glass and steel bars. "Crib walls are supported by threaded steel rod, expressing this new architectural element, instead of hiding it" (Crosbie, 2003, p. 220). The horizontal lines of the corn crib and steel rod base are visible through glass in the entryway to the library (Lin, 2000, p. 10:26).

The interior spaces use new materials: maple and particleboard, sisal mats and recycled soybean husk tabletops designed by Lin (Crosbie, 2003, p. 221; Lin, 2000, p. 10:29). The materials chosen were either recycled or "green". Natural daylight floods the interiors via large skylights and windows, reducing the need for artificial lighting. The exterior space between the two cribs incorporates a small stone fountain that gives the "’transitory’ space a new life and making a positive space out of a void" (Lin, 2000, p. 10:29). A near-by pond is used "as a natural heat exchanger to help reduce the library's energy costs" (Lin, p. 10:29).

A critic for the Seattle Post-Intellegencer appreciates " the quiet, reductive clarity of her work" and states that Lin "has transformed a barn into a Frank Gehry-like marvel of colored light and air" (Hackett, 2000). Alex Ross (2002) of Stanford University considers the library a "marvelous example of adaptive re-use."

The Children’s Defense Fund purpose in building the Langston Hughes Library was to "connects young leaders and activists with the glorious heritage of the struggle for freedom, and is where policy makers and community builders come to connect, recharge their spiritual and physical batteries" and act as a "training ground for the next generation of leadership, advocacy and service for children and families" ("CDF Haley Farm," 2009). Architect Maya Lin states that her mission in creating the library was to "create a fluid transistion between a building and its site, so that you will always feel connected to the land" (Lin, 2000, p. 12:29).
Langston Hughes Library, the Angelou-Franklin Reading Room; Copyright owner: Milliss, 2008; Permission pending.

"The collection specializes in publications about children's advocacy; spirituality; nonviolence; the Civil Rights Movement, with particular attention to the role of women; women's leadership; African American history, literature, and culture; African culture and history; and children's literature. Special highlights of the collection are the hundreds of books that have been chosen as CDF Freedom Schools books"("CDF Haley Farm," 2009). Original manuscripts of seminal works in African-American literature are being collected (Abif, 2002, p. 53). Internet-based access Tennessee Electronic Library (TEL) databases is available for academic research ("The Collection," 2002).

The Langston Hughes Library’s patrons include activists, students, tourists, dignitaries, scholars. Class visits are held, festivals are hosted and retreats are accommodated at the Haley Farm. Events such as the Langston Hughes Library Roundtable, Langston Hughes Children's Literature Festival and African American Read-In are regularly held at the Haley Farm ("CDF Haley Farm," 2009).


The Library was designed by Maya Lin, most famous for her Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington DC., and who also created the exquisite Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, AL. Martella Associates, Knoxville, were the architect of record (Kreyling, 2000). Ms. Lin is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, has been inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame ("About." (n.d.). She is both a sculptor and an architect, and is known for her environmental sculptures of the earth itself.
Maya Lin, architect; CC Licensed: Sharon Styer; Used with permission.

Lin explains her vision: "The idea was to maintain the integrity and character of the old barn yet introduce a new inner layer…expressing the idea of a separate inner skin slipping inside the old barn" (Lin, 2000, p. 10:24). ''I'd never seen a shape like that before and wanted to save it….once I realized that the book collection was small and the library would be used as an intimate gathering space, I came up with the concept of an elevated reading room'' (Kreyling, 2000).


The building project was at least partially funded by from Barnes & Noble CEO Len Riggio and his wife Louise ("CDF Haley Farm," 2009). Ongoing funding for acquisitions and operations are provided by the Children’s Defense Fund. Planned improvements to the Haley Farm include "a Walking Path to Commemorate the Cloud of Witnesses for Social Justice" and an Outward Bound camp ("Visit Us," 2002; Abif, 2002, p. 53).
Riggio-Lynch Interfaith Chapel; CC License AND2.0G: yellowcrayons; Used with permission.

Contact Information

Langston Hughes Library
CDF Haley Farm
1000 Alex Haley Lane
Clinton, TN 37716
Tel: (865) 457-6466
Fax: (865) 457-6464
Email: cdfhaley@childrensdefense.org

Maya Lin


Haley Farm Children’s Defense League website
Langston Hughes Library site
(evidently not updated since 2002)
Maya Lin’s website
Major donor Leonard Riggio
The library’s namesake Langston Hughes


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History. (2002). Langston Hughes Library. Retrieved from http://www.e-zing.net/‌LHL/‌history.htm
Kreyling, C. (2000). Lin Finds New Use for Old Barn at Langston Hughes Library. Architectural Record , 188(5), 48.
Lamb, Y. R. (1994, June 30). CURRENTS; A New Role for Alex Haley’s Farm. New York Times, p. C3.
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Milliss, I. (2008, March 4). Ark [Web log post]. Retrieved from AdaptiveReuse.net: http://adaptivereuse.net/‌2008/‌03/‌04/‌ark/
Ross, A. (2002). Maya Lin . In Stanford Presidential Lectures and Symposia on the Humanities and Arts. Retrieved from http://prelectur.stanford.edu/‌lecturers/‌lin/
Visit us. (2002). Langston Hughes Library. Retrieved from http://www.e-zing.net/‌LHL/‌visitus.htm
Yelenik, K., & Sweeny, V. (Eds.). (2002, December 6). DLIS faculty news. Retrieved from http://www.sis.pitt.edu/~sisint/archives/faculty_news/facnews12_06_02.pdf