Carl Van Vechten and the Harlem Renaissance

Carl Van Vechten and the Harlem Renaissance: A Portrait in Black and White

EMILY BERNARD
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 368
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1npsjs
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    Carl Van Vechten and the Harlem Renaissance
    Book Description:

    Carl Van Vechten was a white man with a passion for blackness who played a crucial role in helping the Harlem Renaissance, a black movement, come to understand itself.Carl Van Vechten and the Harlem Renaissanceis grounded in the dramas occasioned by the Harlem Renaissance, as it is called today, or New Negro Renaissance, as it was called in the 1920s, when it first came into being. Emily Bernard focuses on writing-the black and white of things-the articles, fiction, essays, and letters that Carl Van Vechten wrote to black people and about black culture, and the writing of the black people who wrote to and about him. Above all, she is interested in the interpersonal exchanges that inspired the writing, which are ultimately far more significant than the public records would suggest.

    This book is a partial biography of a once controversial figure. It is not a comprehensive history of an entire life, but rather a chronicle of one of his lives, his black life, which began in his boyhood and thrived until his death. The narrative at the core ofCarl Van Vechten and the Harlem Renaissanceis not an attempt to answer the question of whether Van Vechten was good or bad for black people, or whether or not he hurt or helped black creative expression during the Harlem Renaissance. As Bernard writes, the book instead "enlarges that question into something much richer and more nuanced: a tale about the messy realities of race, and the complicated tangle of black and white."

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18329-0
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xiii)
  4. [Illustration]
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-10)

    This book is a portrait of a once-controversial figure, Carl Van Vechten, a white man with a passion for blackness. Van Vechten played a crucial role in helping the Harlem Renaissance, a black movement, come to understand itself. This book is not a comprehensive history of an entire life, but rather a chronicle of one of his lives, his black life, that began in his childhood and thrived until his death.

    Van Vechten has been viewed with suspicion, particularly because of his audaciously titled and deliberately provocative 1926 novelNigger Heaven. As I was writing this book, people all across...

  6. 1 A NICHE SOMEWHERE
    (pp. 11-106)

    By the time of his death in 1964, Carl Van Vechten had been a far-sighted journalist, a best-selling novelist, a consummate host, an exhaustive archivist, a prescient photographer, and a Negrophile bar none. But long before he was any of these things, he was an unusual boy growing up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in the late nineteenth century.

    “I was born in a town in Iowa where at least half the population is of Slavic origin and I was brought up on Bohemian lullabies. When our cook was in good humor she sang lusty Czech airs.”¹ In the mid-1870s, great...

  7. 2 NIGGER HEAVEN
    (pp. 107-190)

    “Title of ‘Nigger Heaven’ comes to me today,” wrote Carl Van Vechten in his August 14, 1925, daybook entry. Like a prophecy, the title announced itself on an otherwise typical day that ended with a trip to the upscale Renaissance Casino and Ballroom in Harlem. There, Van Vechten joined Walter White, Rudolph Fisher, Eric Walrond, Langston Hughes, Bruce Nugent, W. E. B. Du Bois, Jesse Fauset, Countee Cullen, and others for the announcement of the first round ofCrisismagazine awards. On the same day, Van Vechten’sFirecrackerswas released. It was the last in a quartet of novels that...

  8. 3 LETTERS FROM BLACKS
    (pp. 191-308)

    “Heaven forbid that I should ever be bitten by the desire to write another novel! Except, perhaps, one to dedicate to you,” Nella Larsen wrote to Carl Van Vechten in March 1927. “For, why should Langston Hughes be the only one to enjoy notoriety for the sake of his convictions?”¹ Larsen had just completedQuicksand, her first novel, and was hoping to make a name for herself in the black literary world of New York. She had set her sights on the vanguard, the cohort of writers and artists who had collaborated onFire!!and whose intentions Hughes had declared...

  9. AUTHOR’S NOTE
    (pp. 309-312)
  10. NOTES
    (pp. 313-342)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 343-358)