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Carl Van Vechten Papers Relating to African American Arts and Letters

Call Number: JWJ MSS 1050

Scope and Contents

The Carl Van Vechten Papers Relating to African-American Arts and Letters include correspondence, writings, photographs and artwork documenting Van Vechten’s interest in and involvement with Black artists, writers, and social activists.


  • 1800 - 1971


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.

Conditions Governing Use

The Carl Van Vechten Papers Relating to African American Arts and Letters is the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Carl Van Vechten and Fania Marinoff, 1941-1971.


Organized into four series: I. Correspondence, 1914-1971. II. Writings,1925-1964. III. Art, 1800-1956. IV. Photographs, 1932-1964.

Related Materials

Carl Van Vechten Papers (YCAL MSS 1050). Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

Carl Van Vechten Papers. New York Public Library, New York, New York.


157.31 Linear Feet ((221 boxes) + 3 art and 2 broadsides)

Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The Carl Van Vechten Papers Relating to African-American Arts and Letters include correspondence, writings, photographs and artwork documenting Van Vechten’s interest in and involvement with black artists, writers, and social activists.

Carl Van Vechten

Carl Van Vechten was a writer, photographer, collector, and patron of the arts. Born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on June 17, 1880, Van Vechten developed an early interest in literature and the fine and performing arts. He attended the University of Chicago, and wrote for several Chicago newspapers before moving to New York City in 1906. Over the next five decades he established himself as a journalist, critic, novelist, photographer, and cultural icon. He wrote music, dance, and theater reviews in New York and Paris for The New York Times and The New York Press, and for magazines and journals including Trend, Vanity Fair, Crisis, New Republic, and Esquire. He authored numerous books including, Music After the Great War (1915), The Tiger in the House (1920), Peter Whiffle: His Life and Works (1922), The Blind-Bow Boy (1923), The Tattooed Countess (1924), Firecrackers (1925), Nigger Heaven (1926), Spider Boy (1928), Parties (1930), and Sacred and Profane Memories (1932), most of which were published by Alfred A. Knopf.

His 1907 marriage to Ann Snyder, a friend since his youth in Cedar Rapids, ended in divorce in 1912. On October 21, 1914 he married Fania Marinoff, an actress who had immigrated to the United States as a child from Russia. They were married for fifty years. A family inheritance received in 1927 provided Van Vechten with the means to support himself and Fania, and freed him to pursue his interests without financial constraints. During the 1920s, Van Vechten was introduced to members of the artistic and cultural movement that would become known as the Harlem Renaissance. He enjoyed frequenting the clubs, restaurants, and salons of Harlem, and he began to develop friendships among members of the Black community. His 1926 novel, Nigger Heaven, was inspired by his visits to Harlem and its residents.

Beginning in the early 1930s Van Vechten devoted much of his time to photography. In his home studio he produced hundreds of photographic portraits of his friends and acquaintances, as well as other world figures whom he photographed by invitation and by recommendations from mutual friends. He and Fania developed a large multicultural network of friends and acquaintances in New York, throughout the United States, and abroad. The Van Vechten apartment became a meeting place for established and developing writers, visual and performing artists, publishers, educators, social activists, and others. Throughout his life Van Vechten developed close friendships with women as well as intimate relationships with men.

As a collector, Van Vechten acquired important collections of books and manuscripts, particularly those relating to African-American arts and literature. In 1941, he established the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection of Negro Arts and Letters at Yale University, in honor of the writer and close friend who had died in 1938. In 1947, Van Vechten established the Anna Marble-Pollock Collection of Books about Cats at Yale. He also gave to Yale additional individual books and manuscripts, as well as a large group of his personal papers. He established and/or donated material to collections at other institutions including Fisk University, Howard University, the University of New Mexico, and the New York Public Library (including personal papers dating from 1833 to 1965). Carl Van Vechten died in New York City on December 22, 1964.

Fania Marinoff (1890-1971)

Fania Marinoff was born in Odessa, Russia on March 20, 1890, and came to the United States as a child with her family in the mid-1890s. After her family settled in Boston, Fania moved with her older brothers to Denver, Colorado. She began her stage career as a child in Denver, and toured with a stock company before establishing a career in New York City. She married Carl Van Vechten in 1914. Her performance as Ariel in the tercentenary revival of The Tempest in 1916 was highly praised. On Broadway she acted in productions including Arms and the Man (1915), The Streets of New York (1931), The Pillars of Society (1931), and Antony and Cleopatra (1937). She also performed in The Skin of Our Teeth at the Westport Country Playhouse in 1948. Marinoff appeared in early films including The Unsuspected Isles (1915), The Rise of Jenny Cushing (1917), and Life’s Whirlpool (1917), and performed on radio broadcasts and various special stage performances. She performed less frequently after 1940, but maintained friendships with fellow actors, directors, and managers, with whom she corresponded throughout her life. Fania Marinoff died in Englewood, New Jersey on November 16, 1971.

Processing Information

This finding aid will be revised as additional parts of the collection are processed and as revisions in arrangement or description are made by staff.

As he prepared his personal papers to be sent to Yale, Van Vechten identified which material was to be made a part of the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection. Donald Gallup, the curator of the Yale Collection of American Literature, worked with Van Vechten and carried out his instructions as the Yale Library accessioned and conducted preliminary cataloging of the papers, which were subsequently classed as Za Van Vechten and JWJ Van Vechten. With few exceptions, Van Vechten’s vision for his papers was maintained throughout the most recent processing of the Carl Van Vechten Papers (YCAL MSS 1050) and the Carl Van Vechten Papers Relating to African American Arts and Letters (JWJ MSS 1050). No comprehensive effort was made during the processing of the papers to amend or revise distinctions made by Van Vechten or Gallup.

Former call numbers: JWJ Van Vechten

Guide to the Carl Van Vechten Papers Relating to African American Arts and Letters
Susan Brady and Matthew Daniel Mason
July 2017
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

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Access Information

The Beinecke Library is open to all Yale University students and faculty, and visiting researchers whose work requires use of its special collections. You will need to bring appropriate photo ID the first time you register. Beinecke is a non-circulating, closed stack library. Paging is done by library staff during business hours. You can request collection material online at least two business days in advance of your visit, using the request links in Archives at Yale. For more information, please see Planning Your Research Visit and consult the Reading Room Policies prior to visiting the library.