PRANCING NIGGER [GEORGE GERSHWIN'S COPY]. Ronald Firbank, Carl Van Vechten.
PRANCING NIGGER [GEORGE GERSHWIN'S COPY]
PRANCING NIGGER [GEORGE GERSHWIN'S COPY]
PRANCING NIGGER [GEORGE GERSHWIN'S COPY]

PRANCING NIGGER [GEORGE GERSHWIN'S COPY]

New York: Brentano's, 1924. First American Edition, First Printing. Octavo, 126 pages; VG-/none; bound in publisher's black cloth, faded titling to spine, dull gilt titling to front cover; George Gershwin's copy with his ownership signature on pencil on the front endpaper; Herschel Brickell's review newspaper clipping to ffep, offsetting to front pastedown and endpaper; CX consignment; shelved case 3.

1346494

Shelved Dupont Bookstore

Price: $5,000

NOTES

Sorrow in Sunlight (1924), renamed Prancing Nigger for the American edition, is set in a Caribbean republic (compounded of Cuba and Haiti). A socially ambitious black family move from their rural home to the capital, and the story is concerned with their attempts, which prove mainly abortive, to 'get into society'. The first American edition, preceded the English publication (where it was published as "Sorrow in Sunlight") by six months.;

"George Gershwin's copy with his ownership signature on pencil on the front endpaper. A clipping of Herschel Brickell's review, "The Negro in Fiction," published in the New York Evening Post for April 12, 1924, is glued below, and its last paragraph, which expands on Van Vechten's introductory comparison of the book to "a drawing by Alastair, set to music by George Gershwin", is underlined. Brickell wrote: "The mention of Gershwin is a master stroke; there is nothing on earth so much like 'Prancing Nigger' in spirit as the sort of music we have come to call 'classical jazz' -- jazz with its rough edges smoothed away." The underlining may have been part of an attempt, to enroll Gershwin in "a flurry of plans to dramatize the book, with Gershwin songs and an elaborate production by the Theatre Guild," as Bruce Kellner writes in "Carl Van Vechten and the Irreverant Decades" (1968). "In October 1924 Stuart Rose and Thurston Macauley...prepared a comedy adaptation in ten scenes with the title 'A Jazz Fantasy.' Their plans included a special musical score composed by George Gershwin....Philip Moeller and William Brady both considered the piece, but the cost of staging and the financial risk of so avant garde a comedy were too great," And in the spring of 1925 Gershwin, interviewed on the subject of a jazz opera, said it should be "a Negro opera...The book ... should be an imaginative, whimsical thing, like a Carl Van Vechten story; and I would like to see him write the libretto." Later that year he remarked that he intended to write an opera for African-American singers, and that Van Vechten would help him find a suitable libretto. One can only wonder at what might have been, if Gershwin had been satisfied with Firbank's work as a basis for his African American jazz opera, or not been given a copy of "Porgy" (no longer extant) a few months later. Benkowitz, Bibliography of Ronald Firbank, A10. Pollock, George Gershwin (2007), pp. 567-568" [Thomas A. Goldwasser]