Series I: Correspondence, 1914 - 1971
Scope and Contents
Series I. Correspondence, documents Carl Van Vechten’s friendships and acquaintances with writers, artists, musicians, singers, actors, social activists and other members of the African-American community in New York City, and throughout the United States and abroad. The correspondence, which was formerly called “Letters from Blacks,” includes letters sent to Carl Van Vechten and his wife, Fania Marinoff, from Black artists, writers, and social activists, and from individuals corresponding about African-descended people and cultures. As noted in the processing note, decisions regarding the inclusion of correspondents in this collection were made by Van Vechten and curator Donald Gallup as the material was received by the library beginning in the 1940s, and those decisions have guided staff in subsequent processing of the collection.
The correspondence ranges from single letters to extensive correspondence documenting Van Vechten’s relationships with friends and associates over many years. Correspondents include writers James Baldwin, Charles W. Chesnutt, Countee Cullen, Owen Dodson, Chester Himes, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Nella Larsen Imes, James Weldon Johnson, and Richard Wright; composers and performers Marian Anderson, Pearl Bailey, William C. Handy, Nora Holt, J. Rosamond Johnson, Leontyne Price, Paul Robeson and his wife, Eslanda Robeson; artists Richmond Barthé and Aaron Douglas; educators Arna Bontemps, Elmer Samuel Imes, Harold Jackman, and Dorothy Peterson; and social activists Shirley Graham Du Bois , W.E.B. Du Bois, Grace Nail Johnson, Walter White and Roy Wilkins. Van Vechten’s philanthropic activities are documented by his correspondence with administrators and staff of institutions to which he donated collections of books, manuscripts, and photographs, including Fisk University, Howard University, Piney Woods Country Life School, and Wadleigh High School, among others, as well as individuals and institutions to which he provided financial support.
Folder-level scope and contents notes provide descriptions of third-party correspondents, photographs, writings, and other enclosures. In some cases, Van Vechten’s drafts and/or carbon copies of his outgoing letters to correspondents are included with the incoming letters. Letters to Fania Marinoff are interfiled with those to Van Vechten; folder-level scope and content notes indicate when an individual’s correspondence was sent only to Fania (FM).
- 1914 - 1971
- From the Collection: Van Vechten, Carl, 1880-1964
Language of Materials
Chiefly in English.
Conditions Governing Access
This collection is open for research.
Box 50 is for research use only, and may not be duplicated.
Boxes 80-81: Restricted fragile material. For further information consult the appropriate curator.
Organized into four subseries: A-Z Correspondence; Copies of Letters in Carl Van Vechten Papers from the New York Public Library; Christmas Cards; and Advertising Cards, Invitations to Clubs, Balls, and Restaurants. The A-Z Correspondence and Copies of Letters from the New York Public Library are arranged alphabetically by correspondent and chronologically within files. The Christmas Cards are arranged by year, then alphabetically by correspondent. The Advertising Cards and Invitations are arranged by size.
At some point in the past, library staff numbered each incoming letter from some correspondents in pencil. In cases where the numbering did not match the chronological ordering of the letters, current staff chronologically arranged them.
26.6 Linear Feet (58 boxes)
In preparing his papers for Yale, Van Vechten often provided separate manuscript and typed notes regarding individual correspondents, and/or annotated correspondence to explain or clarify the subjects of letters. In some cases, notes refer to enclosures that were not found during processing. Enclosures such as clippings, performance programs, writings, etc., that were sent with letters, were, in the past, often removed and added to other James Weldon Johnson Collection manuscript collections, per Van Vechten’s directions.
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