Saturday, June 14, 2014

When Washington Was in Vogue

When Washington Was in Vogue by Edward Christopher Williams is told in letters from World War I veteran Davy Carr to his army friend, Bob Fletcher.  The story takes place during the 1920's in Washington, D.C., and chronicles Davy's experiences as he moves among the elite circles of African-American Washington society.

Davy rents a room in the Rhodes' household, and this is where he meets Mrs. Rhodes' youngest daughter, Caroline.  Caroline likes to smoke, flirt, and always has an invitation to a party or a dance.  Davy heartily disapproves of this behavior.  Will Davy come to his senses and see what’s right in front of him?  Or will love and happiness elude him?

The novel touches upon issues of race, segregation and politics.  The story also deals with the idea of beauty and what it meant for African-American women whose skin was too dark or too fair.  Davy is an academic, and his opinions of what happens around him are interesting and sometimes snobbish and sometimes comical.  His eloquent letters capture the joie de vivre of the 1920's with lively characters involved in dinners, dances, and other social engagements, as well as a night out in Baltimore at a questionable establishment.  The love story is the thing that takes center stage, though.

When Washington Was In Vogue was originally a serial in a magazine in 1925 and 1926 with no author attached.  In the introduction to the book, Adam McKible tells of conducting research for a book and coming across the installments of this story.  He realized that the story was important and copied everything he found for a future project.  It was years later when he discovered the identity of the author and was able to get a publishing company interested in the manuscript.  Thus, a notable work of the Harlem Renaissance was saved.

The author, Edward Christopher Williams (1871-1929), had the distinction of being the first African American to be a professionally trained librarian in the United States.  Besides his distinguished career as a librarian, Williams was a prolific writer of articles, short stories, plays and poems.

I enjoyed this book and highly recommend it.

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