Langston Hughes and Carl Van Vechten. An unlikely pair.
One, a dandified white aesthete, the “undisputed downtown authority on uptown night life.” The other, a just-discovered and talented young black poet. In 1925, the two began a correspondence that lasted more than 40 years, and together, they helped shape and celebrate the Harlem Renaissance. Jazz clubs, art galleries, speak easies served as the stage, with literary circles and a nascent gay scene often the backdrop. Zora Neale Hurston, W.E.B. Du Bois, Billy Holiday, and Paul Robeson make up the cast of their many cross-town missives.
But it was a difficult time for whites and blacks to be friends, and some vilified Van Vechten as a Negro wannabe, a profiteer on the booming birth of American black culture. The irony is that it was Van Vechten who fell into obscurity, and Hughes who remains in our minds today.
(Hosted by Alex Beam)
Emily Bernard, editor of “Remember Me To Harlem: The Letters of Langston Hughes and Carl Van Vechten, 1925-1964.”