Thursday, June 17, 2010

In Memoriam: Carl Van Vechten

I've long been of two minds when it comes to Carl Van Vechten...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketOn the one hand he's a towering figure of American letters, alerting his downtown (read: white) friends to the great literary and artistic goings-on uptown during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s of which they might have otherwise remained ignorant; he was also a well-respected novelist and photographer who incidentally served as the literary executor of Gertrude Stein, thus bringing her mammoth unpublished works into print, even if it was posthumously.

Yet there is a hint of the patronizing in his view of the blacks he made such a show of supporting. I say hint because I'm white myself; obviously, there are blacks who might find his hint more like a holler.

In 1926, Van Vechten published his most famous work, N-word Heaven (although, obviously, he didn't use N-word). Reaction to it at the time was mixed: some white critics denounced his use of the word while some black critics loved the book and didn't even mention the use of the word.

Born on this day in 1880, Van Vechten died in December 1964.

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