The Signifyin(g) Saint: Encoding Homoerotic Intimacy in Black Harlem

Posted in Articles, Arts, Caribbean/Latin America, Gay & Lesbian, History, Latino Studies, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Religion on 2017-03-15 01:36Z by Steven

The Signifyin(g) Saint: Encoding Homoerotic Intimacy in Black Harlem

Black Perspectives

James Padilioni Jr, Ph.D Candidate and Teaching Fellow in American Studies (Africana-affiliated)
College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia

On June 25, 1942, Edward Atkinson arrived at 101 Central Park West to sit for a photo shoot in the home studio of Carl Van Vechten. Van Vechten, author of the infamous 1926 novel Nigger Heaven, was a white patron of the Harlem Renaissance and amateur photographer who took hundreds of photographs of Black Harlem’s who’s who such as Paul Robeson, Billie Holiday, and James Weldon Johnson. Atkinson, an off-Broadway actor no stranger to playing a role, transformed himself into Martin de Porres (1579-1639), a Peruvian friar who became the first Afro-American saint when the Vatican canonized him in 1962 as the patron of social justice. I trace Martin’s iconography and ritual performances across Black communities in Latin and Anglo America to reveal the historical relations of power that structure and materialize the networks harnessed by Black peoples to mobilize resources in their varied yet persistent efforts to create meaningful lives out of the fragments of the Middle Passage

Read the entire article here.

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The Myth of Transracial Identity

Posted in Articles, Communications/Media Studies, Media Archive, United States on 2016-04-21 19:39Z by Steven

The Myth of Transracial Identity

The Humanist

Sincere Kirabo

Ninety years ago, writer Carl Van Vechten published a novel intended to be a celebration of Harlem, which at the time was experiencing a budding literary, artistic, and intellectual movement that sparked a new cultural identity for Black America.

Van Vechten’s vivid and nuanced tale granted white America a voyeur pass to “the great black walled city” of Harlem. There was only one problem: Van Vechten was a white man. Worse, to further inspire exposure over this willful exploit, which he referred to as his “Negro novel,” Van Vechten decided to name his roman à clef after an expression used to describe the balcony seating of Blacks in the era of overt segregation: Nigger Heaven.

Juxtapose this unauthorized thievery of select cultural expressions of an oppressed minority group with a present-day example. Last summer, educator and NAACP chapter president Rachel Dolezal was exposed as a white woman portraying herself as being Black. A torrent of media coverage and interviews ensued. Seemingly for the first time, the US was obsessed with the plight of a Black woman, except that the attention centered on a white woman who donned blackface and frizzy hairpieces…

Read the entire article here.

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Nigger Heaven

Posted in Books, Media Archive, Novels, United States on 2012-09-30 21:34Z by Steven

Nigger Heaven

University of Illinois Press
2000 (Originally published in 1926)
336 pages
5.5 x 8.25 in.
Paper ISBN: 978-0-252-06860-7

Carl Van Vechten (1880-1964)

Introduction by:

Kathleen Pfeiffer, Professor of English
Oakland University, Rochester, Michigan

Foreward by:

Philip Levine

A controversial but appealing, amusing, and vivacious celebration of Harlem and the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920’s

No other contemporary novel received the volume and intensity of criticism and curiosity that greeted Nigger Heaven upon its publication in 1926. Carl Van Vechten’s novel generated a storm of controversy because of its scandalous title and fed an insatiable hunger on the part of the reading public for material relating to the black culture of Harlem’s jazz clubs, cabarets, and social events.

“The book and not the title is the thing,” James Weldon Johnson insisted with regard to Nigger Heaven, and the book is indeed a nuanced and vibrant portrait of “the great black walled city” of Harlem. Opening on a scene of tawdry sensationalism, Nigger Heaven shifts decisively to a world of black middle-class respectability, defined by intellectual values, professional ambition, and an acute consciousness of class and racial identity.

Here is a Harlem where upper-class elites discuss art in well-appointed drawing rooms; rowdy and lascivious drunks spend long nights in jazz clubs and speakeasies; and politically conscious young intellectuals drink coffee and debate “the race problem” in walk-up apartments. At the center of the story, two young people—a quiet, serious librarian and a volatile aspiring writer—struggle to love each other as their dreams are slowly suffocated by racism.

This reissue is based on the seventh printing, which included poetry composed by Langston Hughes especially for the book. Kathleen Pfeiffer’s astute introduction investigates the controversy surrounding the shocking title and shows how the novel functioned in its time as a site to contest racial violence. She also signals questions of racial authenticity and racial identity raised by a novel about black culture written by a white admirer of that culture.

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Living Portraits: Carl Van Vechten’s Color Photographs of African Americans, 1939-1964

Posted in Arts, Media Archive, United States on 2012-09-17 23:57Z by Steven

Living Portraits: Carl Van Vechten’s Color Photographs of African Americans, 1939-1964

Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut

Carl Van Vechten (1880-1964), photographer, promotor of literary talent, and critic of dance, theater, and opera, had an artistic vision rooted in the centrality of the talented person. He cherished accomplishment, whether in music, dance, theater, fine art, literature, sport, or advocacy. He began to make photographic portraits in 1932; in 1939 he discovered newly available color film. For a quarter century, he invited friends and acquaintances, well-known artists, fledgling entertainers, and public intellectuals to sit for him, often against backdrops reminiscent of the vivid colors and patterns of a Matisse painting. Among his subjects are a very young Diahann Carroll, Billie Holiday in tears, Paul Robeson as Othello, Althea Gibson swinging a tennis racquet, and a procession of opera stars, composers, authors, musicians, activists, educators, and journalists who made notable contributions to the cultural and intellectual life of the country. Also included are brilliant color images of notable and everyday places: Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee; the wedding of friends; pushcarts and street scenes of Harlem; children at play in a housing project’s yard.

The Collection

Color slides of Blacks.
1,884 color Kodachrome slides, 2 x 2 inches each

[Note from Steven F. Riley] Also includes photographs of: Peter Abrahams, Prince Etuka Okala Abutu, Armenta Adams, Adele Addison, Alvin Ailey, Betty Allen, Sanford Allen, Martina Arroyo, William Attaway, Ethel Ayler, Pearl Bailey, James Baldwin, Harry Belafonte, Roy Thompson Beresford, Mary McLeod Bethune, Charles Blackwell, McHenry Boatwright, Margaret Allison Bonds, Paul Bontemps, William Stanley Braithwaite, Carol Brice, Jonathan Brice, Maurice Brooks, Anne Wiggins Brown, Debria Brown, Roscoe Lee Browne, Joyce Bryant, Ralph J. Bunche, Dan Burley, Miriam Burton, John Carlis, Thelma Carpenter, Diahann Carroll, John Carter, Shirley Verrett Carter, Horace Cayton, Omar Clay, Ladybird Cleveland, Leo Coleman, Durward B. Collins, Janet Collins, Zebedee Collins, Clayton Corbin, Edna Cordoza, Eldzier Corter, Robert Curtis, Jimmy Daniels, Ossie Davis, Gloria Davy, Ruby Dee, William Demby, Beauford Delaney, Inez Dickerson, Hugh Dilworth, Mattiwilda Dobbs, Owen Dodson, W. E. B. DuBois, Todd Duncan, Roy Eaton, Bobby Evans, Martha Flowers, Benny Garland, Althea Gibson, Richard Gibson, John Birks “Dizzie” Gillespie, Shirley Graham, Reri Grist, Nicolas Guillen, Juanita Hall, Bertha “Chippie” Hill, Ramon Blancos Habana, Frank Harriott, Afrika Hayes, Marion Hayes, Roland Hayes, Chester Eugene Haynes, Godfrey Headley, Bomar Himes, Geoffrey Holder, Leo Holder, Charlotte Holloman, Nora Holt, Marilyn Horne, Langston Hughes, Phillipa Husley, Earle Hyman, Ivie Jackman, Annette Jackson, Mahalia Jackson, Raymond Jackson, Louise E. Jefferson, Charles Johnson, Hal Johnson, Hylan “Dots” Johnson, Marie Johnson, (Everett) LeRoi Jones , James Earl Jones, Laurence Clifton Jones, Ulysses Kay, William Melvin Kelly, Eartha (Mae) Kitt, George Lamming, Carmen De Lavallade, Everett Lee, Henry Lewis, Powell Lindsay, James Lowe, Robert Keith McFerrin, Claudia McNeil, Geraldyn (Gerri) Hodges Major, Claude Marchant, William Marshall, Mabel Mercer, Lizzie Miles, Arthur Mitchell, Edgar Mittelholzer, Mollie Moon, Linwood Morris, Willard Motley, Lorenzo Newby, Maidie Norman, Godfrey Nurse, Frederick O’Neal, Leonard de Paur, Louise Parker, Louis Peterson, Julius Perkins Jr., Mildred Perkins, Charles Perry, Ann Petry, Evelyn La Rue Pittman, Leontyne Price, Bertice Reading, Guy Rodgers, Percy Rodriguez, Pearl Showers, Edith Spurlock Sampson, Diana Sands, Harold Scott, George Shirley, Bobby (Robert Waltrip) Short, Merton Simpson, Noble Sissle, Clarence Smith Jr., William Gardner Smith, Rawn Spearman, Melvin Stewart, William Grant Still, Billy Strayhorn, Howard Swanson, Archie Savage, Wesley Tann, Ellen Tarry, Dorothy Taylor, Claude Thompson, Veronica Tyler, Margaret Tynes, Henry Van Dyke, Elaine Vance, William Warfield, Dorothy West, Moran Weston, Clarence Cameron White, Josh White, Lindsay H. White, Roy Wilkins, Billy Dee Williams, Camilla Williams, John Alfred Williams, Maurice Williford, Ellis Wilson, John W. Work, and Dale Wright.

To view the collection, click here.

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Trans-American Modernisms: Racial Passing, Travel Writing, and Cultural Fantasies of Latin America

Posted in Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2011-12-31 18:05Z by Steven

Trans-American Modernisms: Racial Passing, Travel Writing, and Cultural Fantasies of Latin America

University of Southern California
August 2009
311 pages

Ruth Blandón

Dissertation Presented to the FACULTY OF THE GRADUATE SCHOOL UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY (ENGLISH)

In my historical examination of the literary works of Nella Larsen, William Carlos Williams, Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson, Jessie Redmon Fauset, and Carl Van Vechten, I investigate U.S. modernists’ interest in Latin America and their attempts to establish trans-American connections. As they engage with and write about countries such as Brazil, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Costa Rica, and Venezuela as utopian spaces, these writers often tend to relegate Latin America to the status of a useful trope, one that allows them to negotiate a variety of identitarian and sexual anxieties.

The domestic political landscape that informs the desire for migration to the Latin Americas—whether real or fantastical—in the early twentieth century leads to Johnson’s depiction of the savvy and ambitious titular character in his first and only novel, Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man, to Van Vechten’s, Larsen’s, and Fauset’s fantastical Brazil in their respective Nigger Heaven, Passing, and Plum Bun. Hughes’s translation of Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén’s poetry illustrates his straddling of national and color lines through the translation of language. These writers react to Jim Crow laws, one-drop rules, and color lines in their connections to and fantasies of the Latin Americas. What then of writers who make similar trans-American connections and constructions, but who write from a space of relative privilege, however resistant they are to that privilege? Consider William Carlos Williams, who negotiates the pressures of assimilation in the United States as he attempts to assert his Afro Puerto Rican and Anglo Dominican heritages. Although Williams is commonly recalled as an “all-American” poet, his works betray his constant attempts to harness three perpetually shifting and overlapping identities: that of a son of immigrants, of a first generation “American,” and of a son of the Americas.

The trans-American connections I reveal span the fantastical to the truly cross-cultural. In placing United States modernism and the Harlem Renaissance within a larger hemispheric context, I shift our sense of U.S. modernism in general, but also of the Harlem Renaissance’s place within U.S. modernism in particular.

Table of Contents

  • Dedication
  • Acknowledgments
  • List of Figures
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Chapter One:
    • Reading, Misreading, and Language Passing in James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man and Along This Way
    • Blackness under the law
    • James Weldon Johnson’s Along This Way
    • The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man
    • Conclusion
  • Chapter Two:
    • Brazilian Schemes and Utopian Dreams in Nella Larsen’s Passing, Jessie Redmon Fauset’s Plum Bun, and Carl Van Vechten’s Nigger Heaven
    • Historical Context
    • From Liberia to Brazil—A Change of Venue
    • Carl Van Vechten’s Nigger Heaven
    • Jessie Fauset’s Plum Bun, “Home,” and Brazil
    • Larsen’s Passing and Brazil as Utopia/Dystopia
    • Conclusion: Utopia vs. Brazilian Reality
  • Chapter Three:
    • All-American Me: William Carlos Williams’s Construction and Deconstruction of the Self
    • Cultural Context—Casta and Passing
    • Blurring Cultural Boundaries: “Only the whites of my eyes were affected.”
    • The Specter of Blackness: “I had visions of being lynched…”
    • In The American Grain: “I am—the brutal thing itself.”
    • Translation: “El que no a vista Sevilla, […] no a vista maravilla!
    • Conclusion: “I’ll keep my way in spite of all.”
  • Chapter Four:
    • “Look Homeward Angel Now”: Travel, Translation, and Langston Hughes’s Quest for Home
    • Langston Hughes in Mexico and Cuba—1907-1948: Mexico
    • Cuba
    • Langston Hughes and Nicolás Guillén in Spain
    • Translation, Analogy, and the “I”
    • Of Poetry, Jazz, Son, and Rumba
    • The Translations
    • Conclusion: Translating, Travel, and “Home”
  • Bibliography

List of Figures

  • Figure 1: James Weldon Johnson, photographed by Carl Van Vechten in 1932.
  • Figure 2: “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.” Pablo Picasso, 1907.
  • Figure 3: “Noire et Blanche.” Man Ray, 1926.
  • Figure 4: “Blues.” Archibald Motley, 1929.
  • Figure 5: “An Idyll of the Deep South.” Aaron Douglas, 1934.
  • Figure 6: Bessie Smith, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1936.
  • Figure 7: Billie Holiday, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1949.
  • Figure 8: The Williams Family
  • Figure 9: “De Español y Mulata; Morisca.” [“From Spaniard and Mulatto, Morisca.”] Miguel Cabrera, 1763.
  • Figure 10: “De Mestizo y d India; Coyote.”[“From Mestizo and Indian, Coyote.”] Miguel Cabrera, 1763.
  • Figure 11: William Carlos Williams, circa 1903.
  • Figure 12: Elena Hoheb Williams
  • Figure 13: Langston Hughes
  • Figure 14: Diego Rivera with Frida Kahlo, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1932.
  • Figure 15: Nicolás Guillén

Read the entire dissertation here.

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