Nigger Heaven, by Carl Van Vechten

Introduction by Kathleen Pfeiffer

No other contemporary novel received the volume and intensity of criticism and curiosity that greeted Nigger Heaven upon its publication in 1926. Carl Van Vechten’s novel generated a storm of controversy because of its scandalous title and fed an insatiable hunger on the part of the reading public for material relating to the black culture of Harlem’s jazz clubs, cabarets, and social events. This reissue is based on the seventh printing, which included poetry composed by Langston Hughes especially for the book. Kathleen Pfeiffer’s astute introduction investigates the controversy surrounding the shocking title and shows how the novel functioned in its time as a site to contest racial violence. She also signals questions of racial authenticity and racial identity raised by a novel about black culture written by a white admirer of that culture.

One of the best-selling novels of the Harlem Renaissance … [this volume has been] out of print for much of the past seventy years… Van Vechten has long been a subject of fervid debate… He was committed to black achievement and creativity but also to the idea that that creativity and achievement only take certain, often racially exaggerated, forms… It seems increasingly incongruous that one of the era’s most controversial texts should remain under wraps. “We’re ready now.”

— Casey Greenfield, Lingua Franca