Remember Me to Harlem: The Letters of Langston Hughes and Carl Van Vechten, 1925-1964by Langston Hughes, Carl Van Vechten, Emily Bernard (Editor)
These engaging and wonderfully alive letters paint an intimate portrait of two of the most important and influential figures of the Harlem Renaissance. Carl Van Vechtenolder, established, and whitewas at first a mentor to the younger, gifted, and black Langston Hughes. But the relationship quickly grew into a great friendshipand for nearly four
These engaging and wonderfully alive letters paint an intimate portrait of two of the most important and influential figures of the Harlem Renaissance. Carl Van Vechtenolder, established, and whitewas at first a mentor to the younger, gifted, and black Langston Hughes. But the relationship quickly grew into a great friendshipand for nearly four decades the two men wrote to each other expressively and constantly.
They discussed literature and publishing. They exchanged favorite blues lyrics ("So now I know what Bessie Smith really meant by 'Thirty days in jail / With ma back turned to de wall,'" Hughes wrote Van Vechten after a stay in a Cleveland jail on trumped-up charges). They traded stories about the hottest parties and the wildest speakeasies. They argued politics. They gossiped about the people they knew in commonJames Baldwin, W. E. B. Du Bois, Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, H. L. Mencken. They wrote from near (of racism in Scottsboro) and far (of dancing in Cuba and trekking across the Soviet Union), and always with playfulness and mutual affection.
Today Van Vechten is a controversial figure; some consider him exploitative, at best peripheral to the Harlem Renaissanceor, indeed, as the author of the novel Nigger Heaven, a blemish upon it, and upon Hughes by association. The letters tell a different, more subtle and complex story: Van Vechten did, in fact, help Hughes (and many other young black writers) to get published; Hughes in turn appreciated what Van Vechten was trying to do in Nigger Heaven and defended him, fiercely. For all their differences, Hughes and Van Vechten remained staunchly loyal to each other throughout their lives.
A correspondence of great cultural significance, judiciously gathered together here for the first time and annotated by the insightful young scholar Emily Bernard, Remember Me to Harlem shows us an unlikely friendship, one that is essential to our understanding of literature and race relations in twentieth-century America.
E. Beth Thomas
“Much of the history of race relations–and literary history–in America during the first half of the 20th century is represented here. . . . A magnificent contribution to our understanding of an important friendship.”–The Washington Post
“Remember Me to Harlem is not only a major contribution to our understanding of the Harlem Renaissance, it is also a delightful collection of gossipy correspondence between two of its leading–and most intriguing–characters.” — Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
“If you’re interested in the Harlem Renaissance, you can’t afford to miss this book.”–Vibe
“Remember Me to Harlem serves up a textured, ribald and frequently poignant interracial friendship between two remarkable talents.” David Levering Lewis, The New York Times Book Review
“A remarkable work that reveals a complicated relationship between two important U.S. literary figures whose long friendship reached across the racial divide” –The Miami Herald
- Knopf Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- 1 ED
- Product dimensions:
- 6.65(w) x 9.56(h) x 1.26(d)
Read an Excerpt
Langston Hughes is widely remembered as a celebrated star of the Harlem Renaissance a writer whose bluesy, lyrical poems and novels still have broad appeal. What's less well known about Hughes is that for much of his life he maintained a friendship with Carl Van Vechten, a flamboyant white critic, writer, and photographer whose ardent support of black artists was peerless.
Despite their differences — Van Vechten was forty-four to Hughes twenty-two when they met–Hughes’ and Van Vechten’s shared interest in black culture lead to a deeply-felt, if unconventional friendship that would span some forty years. Between them they knew everyone — from Zora Neale Hurston to Richard Wright, and their letters, lovingly and expertly collected here for the first time, are filled with gossip about the antics of the great and the forgotten, as well as with talk that ranged from race relations to blues lyrics to the nightspots of Harlem, which they both loved to prowl. It’s a correspondence that, as Emily Bernard notes in her introduction, provides “an unusual record of entertainment, politics, and culture as seen through the eyes of two fascinating and irreverent men.
Meet the Author
Emily Bernard lives in Burlington, Vermont.
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