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'When Washington Was in Vogue' Review

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When Washington Was in Vogue

When Washington Was in Vogue

HarperCollins
When Washington Was in Vogue is a love story--told in a series of letters from Davy Carr to Bob Fletcher, a friend in Harlem. The book is remarkable as the first epistolary novel in African-American literary history, and as an important contribution to the Harlem Renaissance. The novel also offers a sneak-peak look into the Jazz-infused 1920s, where this World War I veteran (Davy) must navigate the tumultuous waters of passion, as he researches the history of the slave trade in Washington DC.
The epistolary nature of the novel provides a unique experience. As Emily Bernard explains in her commentary of the novel: "When Washington Was in Vogue reminds us of the important role correspondence has always played in our deep, human need to testify to our experience, and to assign order and meaning to things that happen to us."

Despite the games of love that are played throughout the novel, Davy is irresistibly drawn to Caroline (whom Davy says is "a type Jane Austen never dreamed, for all her dainty feminine beauty"). Although he is "unable to see" the ways in which Caroline affects him, she has inextricably captured his imagination.

Davy can try to run, but he can't hide. Of course, the novel has its own unique history, as it was almost lost to literary history. After When Washington Was in Vogue first appeared in 1926, the manuscript disappeared into depths of a microfiche archive--only to be discovered by chance.

Discovery of a Lost Classic

Adam McKible first discovered When Washington Was in Vogue in a heap of printouts from microfiche, but he immediately recognized the importance of the novel. Here was a long-lost manuscript from the Harlem Renaissance. The work was unforgettable--full of passion, Jazz, and a critique of the African-American upper class of the 1920s--as the characters dance their ways across the pages of the novel.

McKible's pursuit of his Ph.D. temporarily distracted him from further researching this amazing novel. Later, when he took up the manuscript again, the novels uncertain origin was a discouraging hindrance.

With the eventual discovery that the author of this anonymous work was actually Edward Christopher Williams, McKible discovered a background for the work. McKible had already discussed the possibility of publishing the manuscript in book form for the first time, but no publisher was interested in a manuscript with an anonymous author. Now, the book could be discovered by the general reading public.

The Anonymous Author

Edward Christopher Williams was born on February 11th, 1871 in Cleveland, Ohio. He was a student, athlete, librarian, scholar, teacher, translator, and writer. In Dust Tracks on the Road, Zora Neale Hurston describes Williams as "cosmopolitan and world-traveled." Hurston says, "His wit was instant and subtle. He was so inaccessible in a way, too."

As McKible also explains in his Introduction, "Williams became the first professionally trained African-American librarian in America, and he must have understood that he was a living example of the historical development of black life in America."

In the end, McKible explains that Edward Christopher Williams "has captured a time, a place, and a psyche previously undocumented by authors of his era." Williams discussed politics, race and the state of African Americans in society. When Washington Was in Vogue presents a long-lost piece of American literary history, as it offers an unforgettable experience in unique and revolutionary literature.
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