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Carl van Vechten Biography

(1880–1964), The New York Times, Interpreters and Interpretations, Excavations: A Book of Advocacies

American novelist, music critic, and reviewer, born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, educated at the University of Chicago. Van Vechten was one of the most influential and visible literary figures of the 1910s and 1920s. He began his career in journalism as a reporter, then in 1906 joined The New York Times as assistant music critic and later worked as its Paris correspondent. His early reviews are collected in Interpreters and Interpretations (1917 and 1920) and Excavations: A Book of Advocacies (1926). His first novel, Peter Whiffle: His Life and Works (1922), a first-person account of the salon and bohemian culture of New York and Paris and clearly drawn from Van Vechten's own experiences, was immensely popular. The Blind Bow-Boy (1923) is a satirical novel after the manner of Max Beerbohm and Anatole France, whose works were widely admired in the USA in the years around the First World War. Van Vechten's most important work of fiction is Nigger Heaven (1926), notable for its depiction of black life in Harlem in the 1920s and its sympathetic treatment of the newly emerging black culture. Two further novels followed, Spider Boy: A Scenario for a Moving Picture (1928) and Parties: Scenes from Contemporary New York Life (1930), the latter containing a rather ill-disguised portrait of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, before Van Vechten turned away from fiction and towards photography. His photographs are the basis of many important documentary collections at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and elsewhere. An important literary patron, he established the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection of Negro Arts and Letters at Yale University. His friendships with Mabel Dodge Luhan and Gertrude Stein, among others, are recorded in Sacred and Profane Memories (1932), a series of autobiographical essays. He was elected to the American Academy in 1961. See Carl Van Vechten (1965) by Edward Lueders.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Tre‐Taliesin Cardiganshire to Hilda Vaughan Biography