About the BookNo other contemporary work of literature received the volume and intensity of criticism and curiosity that greeted Carl Van Vechten's 1926 novel. The bestseller generated a storm of controversy because of its scandalous title but also fed an insatiable hunger for material relating to the Black culture of Harlem's jazz clubs, cabarets, and social events.
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 introduction investigates the controversy surrounding the shocking title and shows how the novel functioned in its time as a site to contest racial violence.