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The Tastemaker: Carl van Vechten and the Birth of Modern America

Edward White.
Publisher FSG  
Format hardcover
Product Dimensions 9.25 x 6.25 x 1.25 inches
ISBN 9780374201579
Pages/Publication Date 377/2014
Daedalus Item Code 54557
This item is not available.
One of the early 20th century's most influential cultural impresarios, Carl Van Vechten was a patron and dealmaker of the Harlem Renaissance, a photographer who captured the era's icons, and a novelist who created some of the Jazz Age's most salacious stories. He was a confidant of Langston Hughes, Gertrude Stein, George Gershwin, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the Knopfs, often to be found in Harlem's jazz clubs, the speakeasies of Hell's Kitchen, and Greenwich Village's underground gay scene. Edward White fully explores Van Vechten's tangled relationships with race and sexuality, family life and romantic trysts, modernist literature and low-brow entertainment.

"As Edward White writes in The Tastemaker, his ambitious and engaging portrait of a 'polymath' and the world he helped shape, Van Vechten 'collapsed the 19th-century distinctions between edifying art and facile entertainment, constantly probing the boundaries of what was considered good and bad taste.'... White shows a commanding grasp of the larger cultural ethos and Van Vechten's place in it."—NYTBR

"White celebrates all the things that might once have seemed shocking about Van Vechten: his conviction that Negro culture was the essence of America; his simultaneous fascination with the avant-garde and the broadly popular; and his string of sexual relationships with men, which were an open secret during his life.... White calls him, plausibly enough, 'prophet of a new cultural sensibility that promoted the primacy of the individual, sexual freedom, and racial tolerance and dared put the blues on a par with Beethoven.'... The most startling thing about White's book is its breadth.... [Van Vechten] was in the end, the opposite of a dilettante."—The New Yorker

"In the prologue, first-time author White notes that you may not have heard of Carl Van Vechten (1880–1964), but that's in large part because he was a difficult man to pin down, earning renown via a variety of endeavors. Born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he came of age—preciously and self-importantly—in first Chicago and then New York City, and with the world in a postwar cultural flux, Van Vechten took action. In often controversial newspaper articles and criticism, essays, and later fiction (for which he finally achieved a wider though divided notoriety), he spoke his opinionated mind on race, sexuality, jazz and other new music, the arts, and more, embodying 'the carefree spirit of excess and experimentation that defined Manhattan's Jazz Age adventure.' His friends and acquaintances, many of whose photographs pepper these pages, were a who's who of the best America's melting pot served up, such as Langston Hughes, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Paul Robeson. Van Vechten was intellectually ahead of his time. Though a tireless champion of his beliefs and his belief in others, he was also untruthful and selfish, often ignoring his wife while lavishing attention on his male lovers. White's engaging biography adeptly depicts America as a burgeoning cultural powerhouse, one that Van Vechten helped build. A marvelously written, masterful portrait of an exceptionally complex person."—Booklist (starred review)

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