The Akwaaba DC Bed & Breakfast is located in the heart of Dupont Circle. The eight-bedroom townhouse sits one block away from Georgia Douglas Johnson’s “Halfway House,” one of the greatest Black literary salons in American history.
The “Halfway House” was a space for kinship, conversation, and refuge for some of the most brilliant writers of the period now remembered as the Harlem Renaissance – a title that’s somewhat of a misnomer for an era that saw a surge of Black artistry throughout the entire northeastern corridor.
“I love Langston’s elegance and I knew I could create a room that reflected that.”
Every Saturday night, Johnson, a poet and playwright, welcomed the likes of Alice Dunbar Nelson, Willis Richardson, Alain Locke, and Langston Hughes. Johnson was known to take in artists free of charge, including a young Zora Neale Hurston, then a student at Howard University.
In 2003, when Monique Greenwood opened the literary-themed Akwaaba Inn on 16th street, it fit right in the neighborhood.The D.C. location is the third of now five inns owned by Greenwood and her husband, Glenn Pogue.
After a successful career in journalism during which she rose to the ranks of editor-in-chief at Essence magazine, Greenwood left the editorial world in 1995 and purchased her first bed & breakfast in Brooklyn, New York. Inspired by the desire to have a different home for each season of the year, the couple acquired properties in Cape May for beachside summers, D.C. for cherry blossoms in the spring, and New Orleans for the warmth of the south in the dead of winter.
Hurricane Katrina ravaged the NOLA inn before it could launch, but the business recovered and expanded to Philadelphia and Greenwood’s latest addition, The Mansion at Noble Lane in the Poconos.
A good mother never plays favorites, but Greenwood said she holds a special place for the Dupont B&B. As a D.C. native and Howard alum, her District roots run deep. For generations, the Greenwood family ran one of the area’s top delivery services with her aunt, Helen Greenwood Allen, at the helm. She credits Helen as her greatest business inspiration and the first person to show her a life beyond her modest Petworth home growing up in the ’70s.
The younger Greenwood remembers marveling at the size of her aunt’s house complete with a pool and earrings so glamorous that they “looked like chandeliers.” Now she has chandeliers in every room at the inn.
Akwaaba DC has four rooms named after Black authors and four named after literary genres, each furnished with books and décor to match the theme. The Romance room is made for love, while in the Poetry room one can dive into the prose of Sonia Sanchez.
Modern Classics has a contemporary cool and the sun pours through the skylight in the Inspiration room, ready to illuminate an idea.
Greenwood told The Bridge that she didn’t consider local history when selecting authors to name the remaining rooms. Yet, she landed on two writers who started their careers right here in Dupont: Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston.
For Greenwood, Hughes set the right tone, “I love Langston’s elegance and I knew I could create a room that reflected that.” Her vision materialized as a suite wrapped in chocolate brown walls and outfitted with deep mahogany furniture.
Vintage trunks are stacked in lieu of traditional tables as a nod to Hughes’ love for travel. A writing desk is tucked under a corner window and two fringed art-deco chandeliers cast a warm glow. White French doors open out to a private balcony overlooking 16th Street. If not for the view of the Washington Monument in the distance, you might just think you were in Paris.
In contrast, Hurston’s suite is washed in soft hues of cream and mauve. One of the room’s first guests was Laura Ann Hurston, Zora’s niece and the author of an intimate biography of her life. Laura Ann finished writing the book at Akwaaba, one block away from the Halfway House where her aunt once lived. A signed copy of Speak, So You Can Speak Again is now included in the Hurston suite.
Since then, countless authors have stayed at the inn and many have given book readings over the years.
Akwaaba DC is currently open for guests and Greenwood hopes to soon be able to safely reopen for events and daily happy hours. “I look forward to getting back to the opportunity to gather. Being able to connect with other guests and be affirmed by them is something that’s always.