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New York City in the early twentieth century was a hotbed of vice and creativity, and the critic, novelist, and photographer Carl Van Vechten was at the center of it all. The Tastemaker explores the many lives of the era’s most influential cultural impresario: the critic who brought Gertrude Stein to the nation’s attention; the patron of the Harlem Renaissance; the photographer who captured the age’s icons; and the novelist who created some of the Jazz Age’s most salacious stories. A confidant of Langston Hughes and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Van Vechten frolicked with the 1920s New York demimonde, finding himself in Harlem jazz clubs, Hell’s Kitchen speakeasies, and the Greenwich Village underground gay scene.
Edward White’s revealing biography depicts a controversial figure who defined an age. Embodying many of the contradictions of modern America, Van Vechten was a devoted husband with a coterie of boys by his side, a supporter of difficult art who also loved lowbrow entertainment, and a promoter of the Harlem Renaissance who believed in racial difference. The first full biography of this great American original in nearly half a century, The Tastemaker encompasses its subject’s private fears and longings as well as raucous parties fueled by booze and lust. It is a remarkable portrait of a man whose brave journeys across boundaries of race, sexuality, and taste helped make America fully modern.
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