The Tastemaker: Carl Van Vechten and the Birth of Modern America

The Tastemaker is a vividly detailed biography of Carl Van Vechten, one of the most influential American cultural figures of the early 20th century. Born in 1880, Van Vechten grew up at the center of attention in a family that indulged his every whim--particularly those that tended toward the artistic. After four years at the University of Chicago, which immersed him further in the emerging modern art world, Van Vechten moved to New York City at the turn of the 20th century.

Working first as a reporter and later as a novelist, Van Vechten continued to promote his beloved modernist art, along with the causes of many musicians--including African-American jazz musicians he met during his forays into Harlem. After publishing a series of controversial novels (and entering into a series of even more controversial relationships), Van Vechten turned himself into a hub of 1920s cultural life; his support and connections helped promote the careers of writers like Wallace Stevens, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston and Gertrude Stein. Until his death in 1964, Van Vechten rode the forefront of cultural trends, interested primarily in the development of art for its own sake.

Edward White interweaves anecdotes from those who knew Van Vechten with quotes and episodes preserved in Van Vechten's own diaries and letters. The combination produces not only an engaging portrait of an individual, but a vivid recollection of early 20th century New York society "as it was." --Dani Alexis Ryskamp, blogger at The Book Cricket

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