Emily Bernard was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee. She holds a B. A. and Ph. D. in American Studies from Yale University. Her work has appeared in The American Scholar, The Boston Globe Magazine, Creative Nonfiction, Green Mountains Review, Oxtford American, Ploughshares, The New Republic, and theatlantic.com. Her essays have been reprinted in Best American Essays, Best African American Essays, and Best of Creative Nonfiction. Her first book, Remember Me to Harlem: The Letters of Langston Hughes and Carl Van Vechten, was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. She has received fellowships and grants from Yale University, Harvard University, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Vermont Arts Council, the Vermont Studio Center, and The MacDowell Colony. A contributing editor at The American Scholar, Emily is the Julian Lindsay Green and Gold Professor of English at the University of Vermont. She lives in South Burlington with her husband John, twin daughters Isabella & Giulia, Sammy the dog, a gentle giant, and Willie & Tom, two very interesting cats.
Langston Hughes was 22 and Carl Van Vechten 44 when they met at a benefit party in Harlem and their unlikely friendship began. At that time, late in 1924, Hughes, the black poet, had just returned from Europe and was beginning to make a name for himself. Van Vechten, a white critic, novelist and man about town, was far more established and widely known. And he had appropriated black culture as his area of expertise, to the point where one historian anointed him ''the undisputed downtown authority on uptown night life.'' His apartment was nicknamed ''the downtown office of the N.A.A.C.P.'' by Walter White, the secretary of that organization.
"a clear, well-annotated, highly readable volume”
—Janet Maslin, New York Times
Some of My Best Friends: Writings on Interracial Friendships
In a world where the dominant narrative on interracial friendships looks like something out of Ally McBeal (high-powered, beautiful white girl, hangs with high-powered, beautiful, and sassy black girl and thus obtains extra "cool" points), the prospect of an entire book on the topic is a bit terrifying. Far from being yet another vapid and familiar exploration of the power of friendship to "transcend all," however, Some of My Best Friends acknowledges the many racial and cultural differences that weigh upon and sometimes break interracial friendships—while arguing that such difficulties often make these friendships worthwhile in the first place.
"The essays demand readers of all backgrounds to think,
to challenge, and to talk.”
Michelle Obama: The First Lady in Photographs
In our period of manic and hollow decadence loudly and consistently dehumanizing a public convinced that flimsy trends constitute the up-to-date truth, the always contemporary power of fine art is not diminished. This is most obvious when expensive forms of trash are forced to backflip until they obviate their standard uses. John Ford did this with Westerns, Fred Astaire with musicals, and our best jazz musicians with some of the worst popular songs. Two recent books of photographs have captured the invincible life of human feeling in high places and the indestructible glare of the heart preserved in the still gestures of ritualized dance.
"Bernard’s essay is articulated above the fray of maudlin sloganeering too common to discussions of black women and what they do or do not look like and what they are or
are not.” —Stanley Crouch, The Daily Beast
In 1926 Carl Van Vechten, a white music and dance critic turned popular novelist, published a novel whose title would cast a shadow over his long life and career. Nigger Heaven, which quickly became a bestseller, was denounced by many who had not read it, caustically reviewed by others who had read and disliked it, including the influential editor of The Crisis, W. E. B. Du Bois, and just as ardently defended by Van Vechten’s literary friends in the black community, including the most gifted among them, Langston Hughes and James Weldon Johnson. His elderly father, who had brought him up to be free of colour prejudice, had warned him against the title, and the book itself included a cautionary footnote on the word “nigger,” a reminder that though “freely used” by Negroes themselves, sometimes as a term of endearment, “its employment by a white person is always fiercely resented.” Was Van Vechten deliberately courting controversy by violating this taboo, or had he come to consider himself such an insider, an honorary Negro, that he felt licensed to do so?
Carl Van Vechten and the Harlem Renaissance "feels alive with cocktail party conversation, vivid anecdotes, whispered intimacies and trenchant debates with friends and enemies.” —Lynell George, Los Angeles Review of Books
Passing by Nella Larsen (Introduction by Emily Bernard)
To mark Black History Month, Penguin Classics is reprinting six early 20th century books by African-American writers. The five Harlem Renaissance novels, along with W.E.B Du Bois' 1903 masterwork, The Souls of Black Folk, are much more than a summons to reader-ly duty. Rather, they're a shake up and wake up call, reminding readers of the vigorous voices of earlier African-American writers, each of whom had their own ingenious take on "the race problem" and identity politics.